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The Sledgehammer and The Inner Critic

March 22, 2010

I want to be your sledgehammer/Why don’t you call my name

You’d better call the sledgehammer/Put your mind at rest

I’m going to be the sledgehammer/This can be my testimony

I’m your sledgehammer/Let there be no doubt about it.

~Sledgehammer – Peter Gabriel~

Last week I had the chance to  take the sledgehammer to another writer’s Inner Critic. It is OK… I was invited to do so. I’m not one normally to thrust myself into someone’s inner realm in a borrowed, ill-fitting superhero costume. But sometimes we all need a little positivity when the Inner Critic’s voice threatens to overwhelm us.

What I did was a simple act (though never underestimate the power of a simple act!)

I read a final draft, gave some positive feedback (it was a truly awesome story which had me choked up in three separate sections) and offered a smattering of line edits. For the person on the other end it was the difference between being mired by the negative double-talk of the Inner Critic and finishing the story on a high note.

I told my friend they should write their Inner Critic a redundancy letter, but it is never that easy – if only!

The Inner Critic is our worst enemy. As the saying goes, keep your friends closer and your enemy even closer. Getting to know your Inner Critic is worth it.

My Inner Critic is a creature of habit and as such She never catches me out now. She raises her Ugly Head under two circumstances:

  • when it is time to hand over a piece for critiquing.
  • when the critiquing audience is my writing circle.


The same sense of being impaled on my own self doubt doesn’t happen quite so badly when I pass my work through virtual reality to my online writing friends. When I trace it back I find the most damaging moment in my writing career has two common elements with my Inner Critic. The bad experience ocurred:

  • when I handed over a piece of work for critiquing
  • and the (less than constructive critique) was offered in person.

My left-of-centre spec-fic has always had a lukewarm reception at my writing group, as they are not genre writers or readers, which doesn’t help.

It is funny how the Inner Critic latches, leach-like, to the most vulnerable part of the writing process.

Knowing your Inner Critic allows you to be forewarned and thus, forearmed. Empowering yourself against your Inner Critic is one of the most worthwhile things you will ever do as a writer. The Inner Critic will never leave, but you can lessen the sway they have over you and your writing.

I imagine the Inner Critic a bit like a bully – if you ignore them, you take the steam from their campaign of terror.

The self-sabotaging feast of my Inner Critic has recently been reduced to a few measly crumbs (as I said – the Inner Critic never goes away completely). I now know to leave my genre fiction for other beta readers – writing group is not the place. Knowing this, I can pick the story I want ahead of time and work towards having the best draft available. I also focus on the wonderful feedback I get from writer’s group and what a difference it makes to those stories. I remind myself of the wonderful conversations we have and how blessed I am to write with such talented women.

My appreciation for the process of critiquing and editing now surpasses the fear I have of releasing my work into the hands of a third party. I see it as an essential process of improvement, rather than opening up my own vulnerabilities to be trampled on.

Let my Inner Critic choke on all that positivity.

There are enough hurdles to writing success without handing our power and creativity to the nefarious undertakings of the Inner Critic.

When does your Inner Critic rear up? Can you search back for a historical origin? How have you learnt to deal with your Inner Critic?

Jodi Cleghorn apologise to everyone who was primed for a post on copy editing today. Alas, after a gruelling copy editing session today, she’s pretty much ‘copy-edited-out’.instead you will find her now, washing dishes, hanging out laundry and dreaming of bed. You can find more of Jodi’s musings at Writing in Black and White.
  1. March 22, 2010 5:00 pm

    Great post. Just read an interesting post on Nathan Bransford’s blog – Do You Lack Confidence in Your Writing? It Might Not Be a Bad Thing! – which relates to the Inner Critic discussed here.

  2. adampb permalink
    March 22, 2010 9:54 pm

    I rather fancy that my Inner Critic is Conan the Librarian.

  3. March 23, 2010 12:52 am

    Wow, I love this post. I read it this morning and you’d had me thinking all day about what sets off my inner critic.

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