Silence the Inner Critic!
Have you met your inner critic?
The first time I caught a glimpse of what was causing so much drama in my writing life was during this Softening Your Inner critic guided meditation on Insight Timer. I was reluctant to try it at first, but Georgina Green, founder of Calliope’s Writers, an online community of mothers who write, convinced me it could be helpful to put a face to the voice yapping at me all the time.
As I relaxed into Melissa Joy Bennett’s soothing voice, I was shocked by what came forward almost immediately. And, even though she was encouraging me not to judge and to instead show compassion for my inner critic, frankly, I was embarrassed.
It was Ursula.
Yes, that Ursula. The busty, slightly inappropriate, sharp-fanged sea monster from The Little Mermaid. She sang to me, “It won’t cost much, just your VOICE!” on loop. I came out of the meditation disoriented and wondering if I was coming unhinged.
A few months later a good friend confirmed I wasn’t insane. She shared that during her yoga teacher training she was directed to explore her shadow self and she saw Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. In fact, a few of the women in her yoga teacher training, all around our same age, admitted to envisioning Disney villainesses as their shadow selves. Must be a thing with us 90s kids.
Okay, cool. But what was I supposed to do now that I couldn’t just hear my inner critic, but also see her? We’ve all heard over and over again that we need to crush this negative voice if we want to progress as writers:
silence the critic!
forgive yourself when you don’t write!
let the writing be bad!
In the words of 90s children everywhere, AS IF!
The advice makes perfect sense in theory, but I could never actually do any of these things. I assumed I was simply a person who would have to push to the other side because my inner critic is so strong, her tentacles so….everywhere.
I assumed the writers sharing the advice either had quiet inner critics or were so experienced that they’d gained the confidence to shush the villains in their heads by drawing on memory of when they completed projects in the past. Not once did I see any advice about how to silence my inner critic, and, since I believed I was doomed, it never occurred to me to ask.
Like most of what I’ve learned on this journey to find some of that elusive writer’s mojo — that flow — I stumbled upon an answer before I even knew the question. It came to me in the last several months when I started to focus on meditation in order to manage the uncertainty, disappointment and anger I’ve felt this year.
During this exploration, I became increasingly interested in what’s known as self-compassion meditation. The primary purpose of self-compassion meditation is to learn to be kinder to one’s self in order to soften the blows of the inner critic and to ultimately learn to treat our thoughts, feelings and, dare I say it, our words on the page, in the same way that we’d treat those of a friend.
This school of meditation consists of learning to be mindful of our negative thoughts and to recognize that these thoughts hurt, but that these thoughts are part of the human condition. Self-compassion challenges us to let go of the idea of perfection and to treat ourselves with kindness when we notice our thoughts taking us to a negative place. [For a crash course in self-compassion meditation, I suggest listening to Kryptonite for the Inner Critic on the Ten Percent Happier podcast or visiting Dr. Kristin Neff’s website SelfCompassion.org]
I found the benefits of my self-compassion meditation kicking in after only a few weeks of regular practice. Who knew sitting on a pillow in the stillness, surrounded by my battery operated tea-lights from Wal-Mart, repeating kind, compassionate thoughts to myself for about ten minutes a day, would loosen the tentacles so quickly. With meditation, rather than writing, as my primary-nonnegotiable-can’t-miss-it-daily practice, I’m writing more than I have in months.
Funny how that happens.
I’m no expert — either on writing or on meditation — but sometimes the more experience one has, the easier it is to gloss over the obvious, to forget what it was like to be at the beginning, flailing, not even knowing the questions to ask. So, beginner-to-beginner, this account of my fumbling experience is my offering to you, if, when someone told you to silence your inner critic, you felt to foolish to ask: but how?