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Writers know that constructive criticism is an essential part of becoming a better writer. We’ve come to terms with the role rejection plays in the submission process. And we bravely pass around our latest efforts at our monthly writers group, knowing that we’re opening ourselves up to a possible unfavorable comment or two…at best. We’re proud of ourselves for accepting this external literary critique as an unavoidable part of the publishing industry.
But how do you deal with the negative comments and thoughts that come from within? How to silence that internal scallywag who likes to whisper in our ear and sabotage our confidence? “Who in the world are you trying to fool with this ‘I’m a writer’ act? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Don’t let your inner critic derail your writing career. First, determine whether this internal voice is stemming from truth or from fear.
A general “Your writing is terrible” may stem from fear—the fear of failure, rejection, embarrassment. Perhaps, deep down, you fear you’ve made a bad career choice. Or you’re worried that you’ve been fooling yourself about your talent. It’s only natural to hear this negative voice in your head from time to time, telling you that you’re risking your family’s financial security or that no one will ever respect your work. This voice creates self-doubt, which doesn’t help much when you’re trying to be productive.
There are other insidious voices that do a writer no good. One is Ms. Procrastination, who likes to suggest, in silky tones, that you’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to work on a new story. Her cousin, Ms. Compassion, softly whispers, “You must be so tired. Why don’t you take a little nap and try this writing thing again tomorrow?” And then there’s Mr. Guilt. “Don’t you think your house/kids/dogs/garden could use a little of your attention right now? And you selfishly want to write?” You can ignore these voices or argue with them, replacing their negative messages with words of encouragement, but you mustn’t let them distract you from your goals.
On the other hand, if the voice is saying, “Your character is not believable,” maybe it’s time to take a good look at the character in question. After all, your inner critic actually represents your own instincts as a writer, and we all need to pay attention to what we instinctively recognize as good writing versus bad. It’s best if you can squash the voice of reason until you’ve been allowed to muddle through a first draft—never let the inner critic stop the creative flow—and when it’s time for revision, you can then pay attention to your instincts and see what words of wisdom emerge.
You’ll always have an internal dialogue in your head—we all do—but it’s important to learn what messages to take seriously and what messages are self-defeating. Listen carefully and determine what’s true, what’s destructive, and what’s just plain silly. Befriend that critic, learn from it, and keep writing.
At Writer’s Relief, we know that writers who submit their work to editors and agents deal with constructive criticism and rejection slips all the time. Our e-book, Rejoice in Rejection- The Art of Surviving the Submission Process, contains valuable tips and strategies for dealing with the less romantic aspects of being a writer.