Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Part II: Taming Your Inner Critic

Let's say that you started a notebook or a private Workshop Blog. You've banished the I.C--for the moment. Now, you sit down to write. Soon you fall through the page. The words are flowing.

If your I.C. pops up and starts giving you lip, put the comments in RED. Then take the I.C. out of the box, tell it off, return it in the box.
You will have zero tolerance for your I.C.
When you return to your WIP (work-in-progress), please delete those red words. And move forward.

It's important to give yourself permission to write what the heck you want. Misspell words with glee. Use all the damn adverbs you want. Tell, don't show. Violate every rule you can. As long as the story is flowing, let it flow. If your story begins to shift direction (a good sign for many writers), let it run. Let it fly. And don't look back. It's like climbing a mountain--keep looking straight ahead.

If you look back, then YOU will be in the box, and the I.C. will be roaming free.

If ideas pop up, make kinder, gentler notes to yourself in GREEN or GOLD or whatever color you want.

Whether you create a private blog or not, when you are finished with your project, you will want to spell check--or even revise. Now is not the time to invite your I.C. for coffee. Not yet. Don't look at your creation for a few days. And for heaven's sake--don't throw it away! Put it in a drawer. Leave it on your blog. Stick it in the freezer (this is what I do, lol).

After you've waited a few days or a week, you will return to your WIP with a clearer eye. By this time, you have achieved the necessary distance. Steve King says this is the time to "murder our darlings." He is right. But first, you need distance.

Now: you are ready for your I.C. Invite it for coffee.

First, print your WIP. Correcting a WIP on a computer screen is very, very different from correcting a hard copy (with an old fashioned pen).

Grab your pen of choice and start reading. You are wearing a different hat, so to speak--an editor's hat. (Some people even put on a stern, 50's hat when they are in self-edit mode.)

When the I.C. shows up, smile. Offer cake.

Just don't let the I.C. get too comfy. Lay down the law. Be specific. Do not let your I.C. be a "free range" critic. The I.C. can't pass judgment about anything you've written/decorated/baked/painted. The I.C. isn't allowed to say, "This stinks!" No eye-rolling, either.

The I.C. can point out spelling errors. You might even let it circle adverbs .

The revision process is eerily similar to decorating--editing a tablescape or items on a shelf. Sometimes you can get too close -- and you need to step back, listen to your intuition.

Later, as you become more comfortable with your I.C. (and when you learn to trust your intuition), you can let your I.C. answer specific questions. Your questions will be different from my questions (because writing is deeply personal).

My I.C. sits on my shoulder. It might say, "Wait, go back to that sentence. Yes, that one. Gee, it's kinda clunky, isn't it?"
I ball up my fists, ready to pounce. "Why, you little--"
The I.C. sighs. "Sorry, Gollum. That was harsh. I just meant you've got a lot of words in that sentence."

At this point, you and the I.C. are in sync. Just to be sure, though, read the sentence out loud.

When you read out loud, you are using a different part of your brain than when you read silently--and you will hear things that your eye would skip. (This is similar to taking digital photographs of a room--and you see what's wrong.)

Ask yourself:

  • If I cut a word from this sentence, will the sentence be stronger? Or will I sacrifice clarity? Not all sentences need cutting (but most do). How many words can I cut from the paragraph? The page? (A good rule of thumb is to cut about 10% . )

  • Have I used all 5 senses?

  • Have I been too vague or too specific? (We'll get into the show/tell dilemma another time.)

  • Here's an example:
    The car sped down the street is a perfectly okay sentence.
    The red BMW sped down the street is much more visual.

    You can even say, The red BMW sped through downtown Savannah and you've got a completely different scenario.
    Make a note on your draft. Then keep reading. Don't dither. If you can't think of the perfect word, make a notation. And move on.

    When you slow down, you are letting the I.C. get the upper hand. But if you write "as fast as the Gingerbread Man runs" (Steve King, again), then you are outrunning the I.C.

    And you are listening to your intuition.

    Here's another example:
    She ate pie is a competent sentence, but it's a little vague.

    This is better:
    Casey lifted her fork and cut into a thick slice of apple pie. (Vanilla ice cream is optional. :-) )

    Here's another thing your Intuition might flag:
    The diner was empty except for a child with a dirty face.

    Your pen might hover over this sentence. Something just feels...wrong, your Intuition says. Well, not wrong. But off kilter.

    Give your I.C. a crack at this:
    Your I.C. says, "Hey, I know--it's too vague. You need MORE words! Ha!"

    So you jot down a few experimental words:
    The diner was empty except for a little blonde girl with cake crumbs on her mouth.

    Yes, says my Intuition.
    But my I.C. says, Not so fast, Gollum. See, "diner was empty" is the passive voice.

    True, I say. But I need that "quiet" before the Reader gets to the little blonde girl.

    My I.C. wanted to know what kind of cake the girl was eating. I'm leaving that for the Reader to fill in. That's part of the fun of reading--filling in details the way you see them.

    But I listened to my I.C. and started scribbling. Adding words. (I have a tendency to do this with tablescapes, too.)

    The Drive Bayou Diner was empty except for a short, blonde girl with strawberry cake crumbs on her left cheek.)

    My Intuition tells me that I've goofed. But how? It's specific, yes. But do we really need to know that the cake crumbs are on her left cheek?
    On the other hand, don't tell us the girl is short. Show it.
    The girl jumped off the stool. Her eyes peered over the counter.

    (My I.C. heehawed at this one--"Her EYES PEERED?" Next you'll be telling me that her eyes dropped or somesuch!)

    Oh, SHUT UP, you vile, filthy, stinky....
    But the I.C. does have a point. Okay, let me amend that to: She peered over the counter.

    This is where the notebook/secret blog is helpful. But try to practice every day. Even if it's just a sentence. You will need to write big, hairy things in order to write toned, buff things. But the big, hairy things will always creep out. Always. If you live to be 150, they will be there. I've been writing for decades, and hairy things pop up like weeds.

    But you need them...just like you need the I.C. Hairy words have a function. They keep us on our toes, keep us from being lazy, keep us pushing forward up that mountain.

    Writing is a lot like cooking--and decorating. Knowing what to leave out. Knowing what to add. Just like with decorating--don't "over polish." Don't edit the life out of your WIP. Just study your WIP the way you would a tablescape, and you will be fine.

    Happy Thanksgiving


    1. What an incredible lesson for this eveing. You are certainly a "great" teacher. I have such a passive aggressive way of expressing myself at times.. I'm definetly going to put this into action! From our home to yours,
      Happy Thanksgiving! hugs ~lynne~

    2. Another awesome lesson! Really enjoying this! Susan

    3. What a fascinating post! It's interesting what the writer will do to stay in the "zone" (writing/editing), such as wearing a 50's "editing hat" or placing a draft in the freezer :-).
      I couldn't help but compare that to what an actor goes through in giving him/herself "tricks" to stay in character. (I'm a sucker for "In the Actor's Studio" in which this is often talked about.) All in the name of nurturing the creative process!
      I loved going down the path of honing the perfect sentence. I always felt like such a nerd in high school because I actually loved English and all things grammatical and expressive. A well-crafted sentence is like a sculpture that the artist has smoothed over, started again, over and over until all the nooks and cranies make the perfect piece of art. I think I'm waxing too philosophical now because of the late hour, but sure did enjoy this post! :-)
      Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Gollum and all fellow Gollumites! :-)

    4. Golllum,

      Your lessons are more helpful to me than you can imagine. Thank you for taking out the time to share your wisdom.

      When you get chance, please read my part II writing exercise.

      Many Thanks,

      Donna Marie

    5. ~* What a splendid rendition of what's "going on" in your writer's head, GG!!! No WONNNNDER you write so well~~~ that was REEEEALLY interesting, & it truly "got me thinking"!!! Will make sure to publicly "thank you" when I pick up my Pulitzer!!! THANKS, gf!!! T'Giving hugs, Linda

    6. I am curious as to how these lessons were learned.

    7. This was an eye opening read about how to improve our writing all makes great sense, but can I actually do it? (Oh, SHUTUP my IC!) See how that thing treats me...LOL Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, ;-) Bo

    8. Thank you so much! This was VERY helpful...I'm going to copy this and save it so I can refer back to it. You're the best for helping us all out on our writing!

      Have a great feast today!

      Buffie ;)

    9. I'm learning so much, from you!

      Thank you!

    10. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone living in Gollumland ..... a place where magic takes place, a place where we are free to be who we want to be, a place I've come to love.

    11. Naz, it's a long story...but I studied interior design, and I have a degree in nursing. I did not study creative writing. :-) But I read many articles and books about the mechanics of prose writing--I just bought another bunch to read (scenes,characters, etc.)

      I just put my turkey in the oven--it's a 16 pounder. We will eat at midnight.

      Today, there's a lot of chatter in the room--and it's directed at me. I can't think. More later.
      Happy Turkey Day!

    12. It's been such an informative last few entries DG, very interesting. My first college course in English 101 had it's writing assignments. I received a B in the class but the instructor told me I would be much better suited to creative writing. (sort of like the tennis instructor telling me I should play raquetball instead of tennis?) Who knows? I think I specialize in motor mouthing better than 'restraints' Have a wondrous Thanksgiving and thanks again for all the time you share with us, Jan

    13. Happy Thanksgiving my Friend! This was great! I have to admit that i was feeling a bit out of the loop. I'm creative but not when it comes to writing and I really felt totally out of my comfort zone to try to use any of your writing prompts. Or maybe i'm just too lazy. However, today I discovered that the creative process is the same. It doesn't matter if it concerns writing, design, painting or parenting for that matter. We all have an IC that we want to strangle most of the time. I come to blows with mine when my ego gets in the way. I now can make friends with it. Heck, I'll even make chocolate silk pie for it if it will help me with a design dilemma. I have found that after doing a floor plan, it's best to let it simmer for a few days. Especially if I feel like I'm over working it. Creativity is best when it's spontaneous and one idea leads into another until the whole room feels like a perfect circle. No beginning and no end. There is one DIVA and plenty of BACK UP SINGERS. They are all of equal importance. One coulnd't stand on it's own. Well, the Diva could but it's so much better with the "doo-wops" going on. So, the conclusion I've drawn is this. Creative process is pretty much the same no matter what the end product. I think my IC will help me be a little less ADD during the "process". This was a great lesson. Thanks so much, Michael! YOU are one of the things I'm most thankful for today.
      Now, I've gotta go get that sweet potato souffle out of the oven!
      love, Carol

    14. Carol! You are a wonderfully creative writer - BELIEVE it!

    15. hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving girl...enjoy all the pie...turkey etc...and most of all enjoy your family

    16. Carol--you can, too, write. I can always tell when people read a lot--it shows in their writing.

      Creative people (designers, artists, floral arrangers, cooks, etc) always write well.
      It's just believing in yourself that's hard.

      To all of my blogger friends: BELIEVE.

    17. I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one!

      Donna Marie

    18. I feel like we are being taken on a journey toward being more satisfied with ourselves (whether we write or not). It has been so eye-opening to learn about my IC and especially that my IC may not always be right! Coming to your blog feels like I have a personal therapist!! (feel free to add that to your resume!) But please don't start charging me what a therapist would charge! Thank you for making us stop and take new paths toward our goals. You could never know how helpful this has been for me, and I'm sure for others as well. I can't wait to come read what you're going to say next. laurie

    19. Happy Thanksgiving Gollum, Hope your day was GREAT! Another wonderful lesson... I really enjoy reading this post... very helpful.


    20. Hi Gollum...Thanks for giving us so many good techniques for writing. These are really helpful to me as a fledgling blogger. I especially liked your comment about reading aloud. I hope you and yours are enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving !...Debbie

    21. I'm glad you found your writing talent as so many of us enjoy your books and your blog.


    22. I think it is so very kind of you to share your expertise with those who wish to broaden their horizons in the field of writing.

      (Also, as mentioned before I did try your 1st exercise and I admit that little IC booger had me questioning my psyche (particularly after I read everyone elses story). In summary, it is verrrrry consoling that you quote Stephen King...grin.)

    23. Thank you! You're a great teacher & so inspirational.! ♥ Diane