Just like how you can’t silence those ‘outer’ critics, you can’t silence your inner critic. But… what you can do, is decide on how to deal with that pesky voice in your head. And, the easiest way to deal with it, is in the same fashion as tackling those critical comments from the outside world. Alas, here’s the irony: the most common advice you would hear is to ignore the critics. Don’t respond to any of them—good or bad. In fact, don’t even read what people have to say about your work. Sound advice? Perhaps. And though ignoring the external negativity is possible—challenging should you decide to try—you can’t exactly do the same with the whispers and taunts from within. It’s impossible to shut out the doubts and mute the negativity. So, what do you do? What can you do?
Personally, I do not disregard both good and bad comments about my work. Yes, I broke the ‘ignore all reviews’ rule. Yes, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. But as part of my practice—Googling for reviews and reading every single one of them—I choose when to respond. And, there are only two occasions of which I do.
The first occasion is a negative review that contains at least one positive thought. It shows that the reviewer took the effort to find one good thing to say. And with such comments, I thank them for their time. After all, they slogged through my work. And despite disliking most of it, they cared enough to say something nice. The second occasion is a positive review that is of a few hundred words. Again, the reviewer took the time to craft a lengthy feedback—not solely praising the book but offering thoughts on areas I can improve in my future works as well. So, in the same way, these are the two occasions of which I respond to my inner critic.
Whenever that little voice decides to ruin my day, I try to find one positive takeaway. “Your writing is too simple,” it says. Well, simplicity isn’t a bad thing! “Your writing will never win literary awards,” it says. Well, I don’t plan on winning awards—I just want to tell stories. “Your writing will never be good enough,” it says… Ah, that one stings.
All right, let’s be honest, sometimes finding positivity can be tough. But when that is the case, I look for ways to improve instead. “Your writing will never be good enough,” it says. Well, at least I’m working on it. “Your work is boring,” it says. Well, I guess it’s time to spice things up! “Your characters are so cliche,” it says. Well, let’s find a way to make them not cliche. Our inner critic may come across as mean, hurtful, and discouraging, but how we respond makes a difference. In fact, our inner critic may be the voice we need to hear to improve in our craft.
So the next time your inner critic decides to speak up, don’t just listen but respond in a way that pushes you to do better in your art. After all, you can’t silence it. There’s no mute or off button for your subconscious mind. The next best thing you can do is use it to your advantage.