Critiquing the Critic

I remember many years ago talking about writing with my mother.   She very carefully suggested that I find a ‘backup plan’.  She didn’t say this in a cruel way, but in a very worried tone.  I proceeded to haul my notebooks and pens into the closet, where I kept writing in secret.  However, I carry inside a critic who looks and sounds exactly like my mother.  She sits behind me and whispers to me that writing is futile, my writing is terrible, and then she proceeds to drop a crushing weight labelled ‘why bother’ on top of me.

Most of the time, especially the last two years dealing with radiation fallout, I find it next to impossible to crawl out from under that critic.  But sometimes I manage to take a healthier view and realize that a writer can learn from that internal critic.  If you can find a way to take only what you need to improve your craft, and leave behind all the personal insults, that inner critic can become a strength rather than a debilitating voice.  But, man, that’s hard.  Very hard.

Which brings me to a good friend who shall remain nameless here.  She struggles with an inner critic who is at least the size of mine, if not larger and heavier.  This inner critic lately has been relentless, and the result is that a few days ago she told me, through tears, that she is walking away from writing.

Now, I’ve tried to do that, too.  And I know others who have.  Because writing is damn hard.  Those who don’t write probably don’t understand how hard it can be, but trust me, it is.  What usually happens is that you leave writing, and then over a space of time, days, weeks, months, a tiny little movement starts inside.  Words just stirring ever so slightly in there, like a tiny leaf floating and circling gently in a tiny track of water.  After more days, weeks, months, the leaf starts to swirl, the track of water becomes a stream, and is followed by the realization that the stories are there, and you can’t walk away because they go with you.

I’m hoping this abandonment of part of my friend’s soul is temporary, like it has been for other writers.  But she sounds pretty serious and the pain is so strong.  If she comes back to writing, it’s going to be a long, long time.  And during that vacuum of no words, the rest of us will have lost something because her writing is so strong and so powerful.  If only that inner critic of hers would shut up or die, if only she would believe me when I tell her that the critic is lying.

But for now, her river of stories has been so  flooded with tears that the words have sunk to the bottom.

If I could commit murder on those amorphous inner critics I would.  But for now I’m in mourning.

3 thoughts on “Critiquing the Critic

  1. We both know that over time, with graceful movements; what sinks to the bottom of the ocean (or river) someday will be washed ashore and given new life as. . . .a beautiful, one of a kind agate! 🙂


  2. So sad and I hope you will be true and we will not lose her as a wonderful writer. Remember to send me what you told me about.
    Oh, and the way you wrote about your friend…nobody could picture it better! Whatever you sell me for not writing…you are, just like your friend writing every time to put a pen to paper, just look at these words!! I am convinced especailly after what we talked about last, that there is no way of totally losing the “ability” to write. And with that I mean that it is always in you and a part of who you are, so dont let her deny who she is please. I am sure she is a wonderful person!!
    Oh and Sabrinas poem…wonderful!!! And the last line, too funny. The whole poem fits perfectly in the picture I have of her.


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