Okay, you’ve committed to (or are considering) launching a big project. Maybe a NaNoWriMo one, writing a first draft of a novel in 30 days. Or perhaps a screenplay. You may have tried writing longform before and failed. Or you doubt you can. We all do. Because we all have that evil creature, that insidious voice that pops out of the woodwork of our dusty mind palace to whisper negativity and/or distraction into our ear as we try to write.
This demon is often called the Inner Critic. It is the Moriarty of your writing life. Here is a lesson from Sherlock in how to not go over the Falls. If Moriarty triumphs temporarily, you will live. But you will be robbed of time.
But you can’t face this villain head on. You will lose, because he has no scruples. But you can still win.
How? The first step is pure Holmes: study the detailed habits of your demon. But you must do this VERY CAREFULLY. Instructions in a moment. Here’s how “not to”.
I took a weekend workshop with very famous Creativity Guru once. Halfway in, she asked us to take out our notebooks and write a dialogue with our Inner Critic. You. It. You. It. Write the exact dialogue. Ask your Moriarty questions. See what it answers.
We broke into small groups and read aloud our demons’ rants. Most people’s sounded something like this:
Your writing isn’t very good. Duh. You’re an idiot.
Oh, why not give up? Hubris, dear. Publishing is dead. No one reads anymore.
You are ignoring your child/dog/aging mother/real work. Oh, and the laundry needs doing.
Wouldn’t some chocolate be great right now? I think you should go to the store and get some.
Four basic tactics: insult, doubt, guilt, and distraction.
That’s typical Moriarty talk and you’ve probably encountered it. I have, over and over. The “Guru” then asked us to break into little groups and read our demon dialogues aloud to each other. There was much laughter and shared recognition.
However mine were different from the others in my group. My demon was the Napoleon of writer/kill. This voice embodied pure, white hot rage. Besides the four tactics above, my writing Moriarty was venemous, violent, vitriolic. Something like this: “You worm. You pretentious f***ing a***hole. Stop what you are doing or I will f***ing BURN you. Yes, threatening. Good grief, the rantings of a lunatic. A very SMART lunatic.
My group was so horrified/astonished/thrilled at the voice that when the Creativity Guru asked for some to be read aloud to the entire group, they volunteered me with such enthusiasm that the Guru insisted I do so. I read.
A hush fell over the assemblage. One woman raised her hand and angrily objected to “having heard that” as it was so violent, so full of invective and — oh no — even curse words! Gulp. Shame…were mine the ravings of a madwoman?
Then, horribly… the Guru said nothing but changed the subject as if none of this had happened. Yipes. I felt like a freak. Something must be wrong with me.
Afterward, three writers came up to me. “Thank, God, you read that. Now I know I’m not alone,” said one. “Mine sound just like that,” said another. “They’ve gotten worse over time,” said the third. We then compared notes and here’s the thing: Unlike most of the group, all three, like me, were pros. All were working writers who had been at it for a long time. What did that mean?
I learned three invaluable lessons.
FIRST: Our demons rise to meet the challenge of our skills. Like Moriarty and Sherlock, they’ll always be a match. Don’t ever think for a second that your writer’s Moriarty will go away. As you get better and more consistent as a writer, the demon’s tactics get louder, more insistent, and more subversive. Their tactics become very effective. But so do yours. The Game will always be on. And you can rise to meet it.
SECOND: The “dialogue with the Inner Critic” exercise is valuable but only if you practice “safe text”. One: do this only in a group of supportive writers. Two: do NOT do this when depressed, tired, or ill. Three: Do it when you are ready to write. Four: Share aloud if you can and want to. What’s cool about this is that you may intellectually understand that everyone has a Writer’s Moriarty but doing this in the presence of others makes you viscerally understand that we all do. Be vocally supportive of your fellow writers.
Oh, and the THIRD lesson? I will never knowingly leave a student hanging like The Guru left me. Hopefully I never have.
Next blog…. Now you’ve got some data about your Moriarty, here’s a simple technique to win the skirmish and keep on writing. Armed with the tactic I’ll give you, you can make it through a longform piece of writing. Or a NaNoWriMo. Plus…how I made a pact with the devil to get 50,000 word first draft in thirty days.
FOR FUN: A LITTLE MORE HOLMES/MORIARTY CONFRONTATION TO GIVE YOU COURAGE
November 5, 2014
Great and helpful advice, and not only to writers, Bonnie! We all have our demons that need to see the light of day and be banished.