I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, and sometimes I think they did me more harm than good. Why? Because the one thing I was taught in English Lit class is that great writers agonize over every word. They pull their hair out trying to find the exact right word, the right phrase, and they will revise dozens, even hundreds of times in order to get the words right. There are writers who brag about rewriting parts of their books over and over, and they wear it as a badge of honor, like, “Look how serious I am, I revised my book’s ending 150 times.”
That kind of thinking damaged me for many years. It’s bred the Internal Critic, who sits in his chair with his lips pursed, and as soon as I write a sentence, he says, “No, sorry, that won’t do. Delete it now, before you embarrass yourself, and then start over.”
The Internal Critic has ruined more writers than alcohol, drugs, depression, economic hardship, and all the other obstacles to writing combined. We all have that critic inside us, carping at every sentence we write, telling us we haven’t used the right words, the right spelling, the right grammar, that we haven’t said anything original or clever, that it’s all been said before and why would any reader waste their time reading THIS dreck?
There is a time and place for the critic, but it most certainly is not at the first draft stage. The Internal Critic should be nowhere in site at that stage. In fact, if he shows his prissy face you should tell him to leave immediately or you will do bodily harm to him. When you’re trying to get a first draft of anything written, you should let the words and thoughts spill out as fast as possible, not even caring if any of it makes sense. You should let your fingers fly over the keyboard and just let the words flow. Don’t worry about logic, facts, style, grammar -- don’t worry about anything but getting the words out as fast as possible.
The time to let the Internal Critic back in the room is when you begin editing your work. However, even then you should keep a tight leash on him. An out of control Internal Critic can make the editing process a nightmare, leading to those horror stories of authors rewriting a single sentence hundreds of times.
I’m trying to control the Internal Critic, but it’s an ongoing process. He still sneaks back into the room at times when I’m trying to write. However, I’ve made it clear that he’s not wanted, and I’m trying to banish him entirely.
Down with the Internal Critic!