Wrestling Creative Demons: Dealing With The Inner Critic

As an eight-time NaNoWriMo veteran, you’d think I would have all the answers when it comes to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Certainly, I know a lot about it and have strategies for dealing with many of the challenges involved. But here I am in the middle of my ninth year and NaNoWriMo is still teaching me new lessons.

For the first time ever, I hate the novel I’m writing. I’ve been stuck before, wondering where my unplanned story was headed, and frustrated with my feeble attempts to get the story moving again. But I have never before hated what I was doing.

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This year’s fun notebook cover hides the horrors waiting inside.

In the last week, sitting down to work on my NaNo novel has taken supreme effort and discipline. Any time I wasn’t actually on the computer, gagging out the next scene, I was dreading the moment when I would have to get on the computer and start gagging writing.

Yesterday, I hit the breaking point. I’d taken Saturday off because I hated the story too much to face it, and I needed to write something to keep from falling even further behind on my word count. (I’m determined to make the quota for the month, even if I can’t fulfill my other goal of having a complete story arc. At this point, I’ll deserve a medal just for surviving this exquisite form of torture.) So I complained to my friends via social media, I read their suggestions, and I took a hard look at what I hated about this story.

This is what I discovered:
1) My angry snotty teenage heroine was pissing me off.
2) My love-interest/hero was wimpy and letting the heroine push him around, making him completely unloveable.
3) My projected plot line was totally boring predictable.
4) My chosen genre (science fiction) was giving me trouble. I was having a hard time making things up because my inner critic kept telling me “You have to get it right, or what’s the point?”

The last problem was my biggest. The other three I could do something about*, but wrestling with my inner critic has been a life long struggle. Years ago, my critic was stronger than the rest of me and constantly paralyzed me with harsh words. Thanks to my years of NaNoWriMo participation, I’ve learned to shut my inner critic off and play on the page without reserve.

Which explains why I’m so cranky right now. I am halfway through another November, having looked forward to a month of carefree practice writing, and my critic is a cloud dumping acid rain on my picnic. I thought I had this thing licked, that I knew how to deal with my destructive inner critic. Unfortunately, defeating it is temporary at best. It comes creeping back in new forms, with new voices, and if I’m not vigilant, I get talked into the corner and shut down on the creative front.

I hate being shut down creatively. It leaves me feeling ill. And I really hate hating my own book. Fortunately, my subconscious took on my inner critic in a dream last night and argued him into submission.

The analogy my dream-self used was scientific research. Basic research is about trying things. There are no good or bad ideas, just ideas that lead to solutions, and ideas that don’t. Some ideas fail to solve the problem at hand, but instead solve a different problem in an exciting new way. (Post-It note adhesive, anyone?) You can’t find the new stuff if you aren’t willing to explore, to experiment, and to fail.

Creativity is about exploration and experimentation, too. What others think of what we’re doing doesn’t matter. No one can know for sure where a well-explored idea might lead. It could be a dead-end, with nothing new or interesting to offer. But it could open the door to a wonderful new place no one has seen before, a place rich with gifts for the visitor. All that matters is that the person doing the exploring is interested in this territory and is willing to spend time finding out what’s there. Even if nothing of use is discovered, it is not a wasted exercise. The explorer still learns from everything she does.

Today I’m feeling shored up. I have remembered that this writing exercise I am doing is an experiment, a chance for me to explore new territory and play with some ideas. They may not come to anything I am interested in pursuing, but that doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The goal is to see new things and think new thoughts. Whether they are of any value in and of themselves is a question for another day.

*My short-term solutions to my first three problems were:
1) Embarrass the little brat, plus break her ankle.
2) Give him spine and have him stand up to her.
3) Burn down the house and set the hero and heroine on the run.

Have you ever hated a project you were working on? How did you deal with it?

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Published by

Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

13 thoughts on “Wrestling Creative Demons: Dealing With The Inner Critic”

  1. A new perspective on writing a book – thx for sharing. You must have grit and determination to persevere. Well done. As a NaNo newbie this year I applaud you on your 8 NaNo’s. 🙂

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    1. Welcome to NaNo land! I am one of NaNo’s biggest fans, so it’s weird to be writing about how much I hate my current book. But I do believe NaNo has helped me to become a better writer both in quantity and quality. How is your novel coming?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is my first ever novel, never got past 15k words prior to NaNo. I am on 30288 words and feeling good. NaNo is what I need right now. Not sure whether it will be any good and what will happen post NaNo. I do know that I love writing 🙂

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      2. The first thing NaNo taught me was how to write a lot of words. Not worrying about the outcome makes it easier to do. With practice, you’ll start telling better and better stories. Loving to write is all you need. How many people waste their time doing things they don’t enjoy? Too many!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, and being less disciplined than you, I abandoned it. Often when I am beading, I walk away from a project for months, sometimes years. And then one day, I wake up know the pink beads need copper not silver or the e orange and white Dreamcicle beads need to be mixed with browns, and then work like a demon.

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    1. I think part of the discipline comes from the fact that I know I can do this because I’ve done it before. Also, if I abandon this novel and give up, I have to get work on the novel revision that’s waiting for me, and that just sounds like work. 🙂

      Some creative projects do need time to cook. I do the same thing with my knitting, sewing, and beading stuff. If I get stuck, I walk away until I come up with a solution. And I have abandoned novels before, too. Some things just take time.

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  3. Been there. I tried my hand at writing in a new genre and came to the conclusion that, while I enjoy reading books in that genre, I’m a fantasy writer through and through. Those are the stories and worlds I’m most passionate about. Not that I’ll never try another genre, but fantasy/paranormal is where my heart is.

    For me, I have to love the characters. If I love them, I know I can finish their story and do justice to it. I feel guilty if I abandon beloved characters mid-story because I’ve left them without resolution and usually up to their eyeballs in conflict. Knowing that they’re waiting for their story to be told is a great motivator for me. If I didn’t love the characters, I would either find a way to fall in love with them or tell a different story–hopefully the former.

    NaNo is great at making us push through the self-doubt and the nagging of the inner critic, but it sounds like yours was telling you something important. I’m glad you were able to find some solutions.

    Good luck!

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    1. I was feeling bored with fantasy so I intentionally went with a different genre. To date, most of my NaNo novels have been some form of fantasy (I can’t help it; magic just finds it’s way in), but I have tried a murder mystery and a comedy. I loved reading sci fi as a kid, but I’d forgotten that my perfectionist side worries that I won’t get the science stuff right and that it ties me up in knots.

      I just finished today’s writing session and had a little brainstorm of a way to turn the tables on my characters. I’m hating them less. I want to love them, and usually would, but they haven’t had much chance to be loveable. Will keep working on it! Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I admire you for tackling such a huge task. I know I would give up at the first hurdle. I tried to encourage my husband to try it out, as it’s something he’s dreamed of doing but to no avail! Long walks always help me when I hit a creative wall and, strangely, a morning shower. Good luck and well done!

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    1. There are things we were meant to do and things that are not for us. Novel writing is apparently one of my things, or I wouldn’t stick to it like I do.

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