Self One The Critic

When you're writing, have you noticed a little voice in your head judging your work? You might even hear it right now. It's the voice talking about what you're reading as you are reading. It's the voice that tells you that your writing is good or lousy (usually the latter). You may be so used to this well-intended unseen companion that you don't know he's there in your head. But he's there. Believe me. And it is this inner critic called Self One in the inner game that stops you from writing with ease, flow, and originality.

If you find a part of you saying things like, "You aren't a good writer," or, "Watch your spelling!" then you've heard Self One. In my first book, Zen and the Art of Writing, I called this voice Mr. Editor.

Our educational system installed this internal editor when we were kids in English class. You and I were taught to watch our spelling, grammar, punctuation, logic, sentence structure, and so on. We were made so cautious of mistakes that we actually became paranoid. We made Mr. Editor our trusted friend and advisor and let him run the show whenever we picked up a pen to write.

But Self One isn't such a good buddy. It's this very voice that prevents you from writing some topnotch material. Though Mr. Editor seems like he is helping you, he is actually keeping you protected. Safe. Controlled. And under those circumstances, you can't be free to write anything that will grab attention.

Imagine this: You are about to write a letter. You sit down, flip on the computer, and prepare to tap the keys. But suddenly your sixth grade English teacher appears at your side! Oh no! "What are you writing?" your teacher asks. "A letter," you say. "Let me help," he says. Gulp. As you begin to write, your teacher judges your work. "Did you spell that right?" he asks. "That line doesn't make sense," he says.

Do you think you would get very far under those circumstances? Yet that very teacher is in your head, whispering in your ear, as you write! No wonder most of us create mediocre work! We're under guard!

In my writing classes I watch people write. I see them write a line, stop, think it over, scratch it out, write another, and try again. That's stuttering on paper! Those students are listening to their internal editors and it's blocking them! Mark Twain was right. Imagine what the world would sound like if you and I edited ourselves so ruthlessly when we spoke!

Another exercise to reveal your internal critic is something I do in my workshops. I have people pair off. One stands, the other sits. The one sitting begins to write something, anything. The one standing gently, quietly, but persistently, judges what is being written. No one can write under those circumstances.

It's too distracting. Yet we do this to ourselves every time we sit to write!

It's time for a change.

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