Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Care And Feeding of My Inner Critic

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Now that my writing retreat is over, I’m back to my day-to-day writing routine, which competes with my day job and a half dozen other distractions and responsibilities. Sometimes I get in a good hour. Other days, it’s an entire morning, or a beautiful, uninterrupted afternoon.

For years, I’ve obsessed over finding the optimal balance between writing and other paid work. I’ve been convinced that one day I’ll settle into a perfect routine. I’ve daydreamed about it, discussed it over lunch with my friends, made special notes in my day-timer in green highlighter. What I’ve come to understand is that a successful writing life has little to do with time management.

Mostly, it’s about my Inner Critic.

We all have one (or many). It’s the voice inside our head that scolds, criticizes and warns us about our writing. During workshops, I encourage people to draw their inner critic. With crayons and markers, they sketch monsters, scary animals, parental figures.

Mine's a shaper-shifter. Although it knows to use its inside voice, it rarely does. It yells things like, “THAT’S NO GOOD!” or “YOU’RE NOT A REAL WRITER!” The Inner Critic can be a real bully.

There are many strategies for dealing with bullies. You could stand up, chest puffed out, and reply indignantly, “Enough! SIT DOWN in your chair and BE QUIET!” Or perhaps you might report the bully to the correct authorities, who will convince her (at least for a little while) that she is wrong. Inner Critics will sometimes listen to gushing reviewers, awards juries and the president of your fan club.

My Inner Critic requires a soft touch because she’s just a scared little kid inside. When she snivels, “that’s really ugly writing, Farzana,” it’s with a tremor in her voice. She’s afraid of what other people will think. She tries to prevent me from getting hurt by Outer Critics.

Sweet-talk helps. So does a cup of tea. Telling her it doesn’t matter sometimes works. She eventually calms down. And then I can write again.

She likes to sleep in, so the early morning is a good time to sit down at the computer. She’ll rouse if she hears the chatter of e-mail or the cacophony of Facebook, but snoozes through the clickety-click of sustained typing. For some reason, drab hotel rooms that face onto highways calm her. She is also less anxious when I write everyday, seems to take courage in consistency.

So for me, there is no perfect writing routine. There is only the care and feeding of my Inner Critic.

2 comments

KC, thanks so much! Glad your Inner Critic allowed you to finish your thought. Yes, I agree, Inner Critics can be literary figures from reading past. In workshops I also sometimes hear names of overly critical English teachers, parents, book reviewers...
Ride On!

Farzana, after reading this lovely piece, you've now woken my own ravenous Inner Critic from what was almost a two-week slumber. I might have to abandon this comment in mid-sentence...
Been listening to Rilke's "Letters To A Young Poet" (audiobook, Stephen Mitchell translation) every morning this week, and your piece reminds me of that first letter where he discusses critics and that compulsive need for affirmation that so many writers are afflicted with. Perhaps our Inner Critic is little more than the anxiety of influence- those towering literary figures (or transporting passages) from our reading past who glare over our shoulders with their steely eyes as we write. Our loss of innocence in the act of creating. Or is it Forster's idea of a round table of past/present/future writers, chattering in our heads...
Am very pleased to see you on this site. Keep 'em coming. Giddy up!

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Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is a Toronto-based author and the recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Grant for an emerging gay Canadian author (2011). Her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2007. She is currently touring her second book, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn 2011).

Go to Farzana Doctor’s Author Page