Alice’s Restaurant

November 30, 2006

NaNo and The Internal Critic

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 1:12 am

May is having a sort of writer’s carnival.  She has invited people to write about writing technique every Wednesday, and let her know about it.  She will post a link on her blog.  Since Alice’s Restaurant is a Romance writer’s blog, I thought why not?  So every Wednesday I’ll be doing a little something gleaned from my 30 plus years of effort.  It’s too late to get my link in this week, but next week should make it in, and you’ve got to start somewhere.

And that’s what I want to talk about.  Starting.  Somewhere. 


The one thing sure to face every writer at least once is the dreaded blank page.  Most of the time, in the last half dozen years, I’ve blown right past that blank page so fast I hardly notice.  But I spent years and years agonizing over every little word.

What makes it so agonizing?  The inner critic.  There is nothing worse than a little voice you can’t plug your ears against saying things like:

“This is no good.”

“You are wasting your time.”

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“This is too hard.  You don’t have what it takes to do this.”

“You don’t have enough time for this.  You’ll never get anywhere.”

“No one will ever want to read this or anything else you ever do.”

“Quit now, before you make a fool of yourself.”

Notice a pattern here?  Your inner critic claims to be trying to save you from pain, but most of the pain is coming from those nasty little thoughts.  The first thing to do is NOTICE the things you tell yourself.  The second is to realize it’s your own brain coming up with this garbage, and thus it’s under your control.  The third is to replace the comments with something else.

Replace it with what? 

How about your book?

These days I generally open a file when a scene, one that moves me, is already running in my head.  I sit down and start typing frantically trying to keep up with the images and dialogue and life of the characters before it all evaporates back into the mists from which it all came.  When I come up for air, I don’t even remember seeing the blank page at all.

Keep in mind, however, that I have already beaten the inner critic back so that It doesn’t trip me up when the words don’t match what’s in my head.  I know they aren’t going to match before I start.  Having gone to ridiculous lengths to try and make them match, I speak from experience.

I beat back the inner critic when I tried to quit.  Three times, I honestly tried to make myself stop writing.  I couldn’t do it.  The scenes still play in my head.  They’ve got to go somewhere.  Why not on paper?  And as long as I’ve written it down, I might as well share it.  Heck, I might even be able so sell something someday.  It’s a vicious cycle.  But once I realized I was never going to be able to quit, I didn’t care any longer what the inner critic had to say.

Takes too long?  So what?  I’m going to do it any way.  Not any good?  So what?  Never going to amount to much?  So what?  I’m a big looser because I spent so many years of this?  Too late to worry about that now.

I noticed something once I gave in to my writing addiction.  It was a lot easier to write.  It was more fun to write.  My writing has been getting steadily better.  I’m getting more and more positive feedback.  And I have little time for people who support my inner critic with stupid comments like “are you still at that?”

It seems to me that National Novel Writing Month is an attempt to get around the inner critic, one that doesn’t involve trying to tear your life apart in order to quit writing.  In order to write that many words in one month you have to go for volume, not quality.  You could sit there typing random words and meet the challenge.  It doesn’t matter what you write, merely that you do so.

Do the BIC-HOK  (Butt In Chair, Hand’s On Keyboard) because nothing will happen if you don’t.  And if you do, there’s a chance, just a chance, that you will discover that golden glory, that Holy Grail known as The Flow.  Trust me, even if you never get a word into print, even if nothing you write appeals to you when you read it months later, experiencing the flow makes it all worth while.

Here, on this next-to-last day of NaNoWriMo consider what you got out of the experience.  Chances are it wasn’t a sellable book.  If you are lucky and put a lot into it, then you learned some writing technique, got over some fears, and ended up with something that might someday be finished and revised into a sellable book.

In the worst case you listened to your inner critic and came out accomplishing little or nothing and feeling lousy.  Buck up!  Your “failure” isn’t real because writing a book doesn’t have to be done in a single month.  It can be done any old way you feel like doing it with the exception of never getting around to it.  Tell your inner critic to shove off.

By the way, that inner critic doesn’t limit itself to your writing.  See what it has to say about your job, the way you interact with your family, or even your hobbies.  It’s just as wrong there as it is in your writing.


Who has been there and back.


  1. BTW May is also called MiLady Insanity and two of her links are there in my Blogroll: MiLady Insanity and Twists and Turns


    Comment by aliceaudrey — November 30, 2006 @ 1:14 am

  2. What a great (and inspirational) blog~ I beat my inner critic back by simply not listening to it until AFTER I push the submit key. . .but boy, it sure is hard to listen to it harp on and on until you get a response back from the publisher/editor. . . It sure does take a lot of effort for me to dress the story back up and send it back out after a rejection. . .

    Comment by Pam — November 30, 2006 @ 5:22 am

  3. I know it, Pam. Submitting is a real muse killer. But it’s got to be done. Like I said before, writing for yourself is like playing tennis with a wall.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — November 30, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

  4. Oh, Thanks! Really funny. Big ups!

    Comment by JoshWink — August 13, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

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