“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman
There’s a difference between writing for our ideal reader and writing for our inner critic. The inner critic is like a 24-hour flu — it passes, but in the meantime it has robbed us of a good day’s work. The challenge is not in overcoming the inner critic but in writing through the fear.
If we write from our inner critic, we can kill the aliveness of our work. If we second-guess ourselves, we can create a decade-long battle from what could have been a three-month first draft.
Creating art requires that we accept the work for what it is. We can’t force our characters to be other than they are. Just as water goes with the flow, our characters adhere to the context within which we’ve placed them.
When we trust our characters’ impulses, we often find ourselves pleasantly surprised that their behavior is still in service to our theme. The moment we try to impose a false action on our characters, they will rebel.
So how do we reconcile trusting the aliveness of our characters with adhering to our story’s underlying theme? Being aware of the tension between these two seemingly opposing forces is half the battle.
The second half is a matter of focus. If we focus on the road directly in front of our car when driving on the highway, our control of the vehicle is limited, but if we widen our perspective, the car moves more smoothly and we tend to relax. Storytelling works the same way. We move from the general to the specific.
It’s our job to listen to our characters. Sometimes we receive inspiration in great hunks and sometimes in dribs and drabs. We take it when we can get it. We try to be grateful and remember that inspiration is the result of sincere inquiry, not self-flagellation.
The inner critic wants us to fail. It can’t stand the tension of waiting to see if the cake will rise. It may be the worst part of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t use it to our advantage.
Rather than wasting energy trying to silence the critic, or making the mistake of waiting for the “right time to write,” as if the critic is ever going away, the secret is to do your work now in spite of it, and to make your story more important than the result. The antidote lies in embracing our insecurity and inquiring into its nature. By doing this we’ll discover that our feelings of doubt and fear are identical in nature to those of our characters, thereby making us uniquely qualified to tell our story.