Some people think that the writer’s worst critic is his/her audience, that negative reviews destroy him/her from the inside. It’s true that readers and reviews are important to most writers but they are far from writers’ worst critics. Honestly, readers and reviews only have the slightest influence in comparison to writers’ real worst critics: themselves.
I know it’s cheesy to say that we are our own worst enemies but there’s a reason phrases like that exist. In this case the saying exists because it’s true. It’s true for any person but most especially artists. Painters, drawers, sculptors, actors, and, yes, writers are notoriously hard on themselves. We expect perfection and if we don’t get what we consider to be perfect, it won’t matter what anyone else says. We’ve already failed ourselves.
How do we deal with these inner critics? As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t know. I can barely get mine to shut up long enough to get any work done, and lately that’s required a combination of anti-depressants and two kinds of anti-anxiety pills. Nevertheless, learning to live and work with the writer’s worst critic is key to being a writer.
Writers can benefit from some self-criticism. The important word there is some. We need to be critical of ourselves and our work so that we can produce the best writing that we can. It’s especially helpful during the editing/rewriting phase. However, there’s a point when enough is enough. If the voice inside your head is telling you that you can’t make it, that you will never make it, that your writing is garbage, that’s when you need to take a step back and reevaluate your situation. Been there, done that, probably will be back there again tonight as I work on my end-of-year portfolio.
Despite what people may try to lead you to believe, it’s not so easy to just turn the inner critic off. Believe me, I’ve tried. It slips back into your thoughts as soon as you think you’re in the clear and you let your guard down. My inner critic especially loves to appear when I’m in the middle of first writing a story and when I’m in the midst of editing. Yes, it can help me edit and improve my work but it’s often in hyper-drive and tries to derail the entire project. I’m sure I’m not the only one. There’s a reason why the stereotypes of writers with addictions and mental disorders have gained traction.
The important thing to remember is to write despite this critical voice. It’ll probably still shout in your head and make you want to curl into a ball, but you can show it who’s in charge. You’ll feel much better if you just get a project done even with the doubt. Sometimes you’ll have to stop and give the voice a bit of a credence–after all, it may actually have a point about the last passage you wrote–but you also have to brush aside comments along the lines of “you’re a failure.” I know, easier said than done. If we don’t at least try, we’ll never get anything done.