Inner Critic — Guide, Guard, or Enabler?

You will never, ever, in a million years be that creative and write that well!
With nuclear force, Gretchen (my Inner Critic) burst onto the scene shouting these words and a stream of related ones as I began reading Three Bites, a 675 word life story by Leslie F. Miller, found on the most excellent Brevity28 website. Leslie’s imaginative description totally blew me away and seemingly raised the bar out of reach. I knew what was happening; still, I was stunned by Gretchen’s outburst. What was this all about?

Two days later, still reeling from that attack's aftershocks, I journaled about it, using the technique I’ve evolved of posing questions — to myself or whatever source of inspiration may be floating around — and then just writing without further thought. I’ve found many powerful answers that way.

The answer that morning seemed ambiguous. It didn't address Gretchen's outburst at all. Within a sentence or two, my words turned to the day my hubby and I set out to climb Cathedral Rock near Sedona. We both wanted the heady experience of scaling the sheer slopes. He wanted to take pictures. I was curious about the vortex energy Native Americans and mystics associate with the site. I wanted to experience it myself — or not.

The first half of the trail wound gradually up and around the base. Then we had to scramble up a fairly steep rocky area. Did I really want to do this? Was it worth it? “Come on. This is nothing. Keep moving!” Hubby urged. I kept going. Sure enough, in minutes we were on the next level and moving along a fairly level path.

Finally we came to the last ascent, and it seemed to go straight up to heaven, figuratively if not literally. Well, maybe only maybe a couple of hundred feet, but still ... In truth, my fear was not about climbing up. I knew I could make it up with no problem. Getting down again was another matter. Heights make me queasy, and I’m more aware of them going down.

“I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t need to go clear to the top. This is good enough,” I whined. “You go on up if you want, I’ll poke around down here.”

“You’ll always regret it and hate yourself if you quit. Come on.” His voice was gentle, encouraging, and I knew he was right. I would hate myself later if I wimped out. Up I went.

The view from the top was spectacular, and he got some great photos. I sat for about half an hour gazing out, and I wish I could say I was transported somehow, but if the energy is there, my receiver was not tuned into that frequency. All too soon we headed down again, hoping to also make it up Bell Rock several miles away. The slopes I’d feared descending turned out to be no big deal, and the exhilaration I felt from having overcome my reluctance surely equaled anything The Force could have offered.

Recalling this adventure reminded me that Gretchen could be doing any of several things. She could be posting trail markers to help my stay on the path that makes the best use of my talents. She could be guarding me from danger. Or, she could be giving me the excuse I need to wimp out and avoid the challenge and exhilaration of scaling new heights of achievement.

In the final analysis, I decided that this time Gretchen was functioning as an enabler for my Inner Wimp. Guides and Guards give reasons.
Enablers use fear and intimidation. I won’t be deterred by stories that seem to eclipse my humble efforts. I shall continue to approach reading as a source of inspiration and use it as a springboard for expanding my vision rather than lapsing into meaningless comparisons. And I’ll keep writing, revising, and writing some more, honing my skills with practice.

Regardless of the whines of my Inner Wimp, I’ll take the next steps, writing and revising, slowly scaling my way to that peak, strengthening my writing muscles in the process. Climbing that rock is a robust metaphor for writing. I’d hate myself if I quit trying to improve. My work will never sound like Leslie Miller's because I’m not Leslie Miller. But I can do a fine job of telling my stories my way, and what more could anyone hope for?

Afterward: Perhaps the joke was on me. I recently learned that the Cathedral Rock vortex is not at the top of the rock as I thought, but down at the bottom, across Oak Creek, nearly a mile away. We actually did hike there another day, passing the site without realizing it. But I’m still glad I climbed the rock, and now I know that the most powerful results may not come from the most strenuous effort.

Write now: have a freewriting conversation in your journal or on scrap paper with your Inner Critic about (her?) motivations. Explore previous times, perhaps unrelated to writing, when you have overcome your fears and consider how that relates to your writing. Did you have coach or cheerleader urging you on? Where can you find that sort of support for your writing?


Mark Anderson said...

I know the pain of reading only to be intrupted by Gretchen and her maniacal taunting. But I think I've taught myself to focus less on my version of Gretchen (who sits on my right shoulder) and more to Claus (who sits on my left). Claus likes to stroke my ego and tell me my writing is much better than whatever I'm reading. I like Claus.

Lindsay Price said...

Sometimes that inner critic shouts so loud though, it's hard to hear anything else. I've come to a point though where I realize there's nothing else I'm really good at. I have to write. That's what I have to give. So Shout all you want Gretchen, cause I got writing to do...

Ritergal said...

Mark and Lindsay, thanks for stopping by and sharing your Critic stories.

This post doesn't mention my muse Sarabelle, but ... Sarabelle doesn't encourage. She just tosses out story ideas. Mark, thanks especially for mentioning Claus. I've got someone like that on my team, in addition to Betty, my "editor." My version of Claus has not introduced him/herself. I bet that happens rather soon. How intriguing!

Lindsay, yes! I have to write! Giving up is not an option, but I could settle for less. Or could I? Interesting question. I think not.

Pat's Place said...

Wow! I had a closely related experience a few days ago. I read Teresa May's blog (SCN member) and was really blown away with her powerful descriptions. I thought to myself--I can NEVER write like that, so why try. I went back into my "I only write trivial stuff" whine, and then gave one of my books to a friend for a Christmas present. Today she gushed for five minutes about how wonderful it is. Well, that boosted me back up into trying again to write like ME and not like Teresa May!

Ritergal said...

Ah, Pat, I KNEW I'm not the only one who thinks that way! And you put it so well, "trying to write like ME ..." That's exactly my goal, to write like the very best ME!

Ritergal said...

Oh! I found Teresa May's blog. Wow! Pat, I see what you mean. That blog is worth studying to expand our awareness of description possibilities! Thanks ever so much Pat, for pointing it out!

Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Ritergal,

I like your way of hearing your inner critic as someone speaking to you. That gives you the chance to talk back. And I love the way you weave your thoughts about an inner critic with your hike up a mountain. Nice images all. One thing I do when I get too wrapped up in comparisons with other writers is to realize that I have enjoyed a wide variety of writing in my life, and just because I enjoy one kind has not meant I hate another. There's room for my style as well as there's.

Memory Writers Network

ybonesy said...

I know those words well. In my case, they come from monkey mind (my version of Gretchen). Thanks for sharing what looks like a great process for breaking through and not being tossed away.

Ritergal said...

Jerry, just to be clear for everyone, I didn't consciously decide to hear inner voices as personalities. These "forces" introduced themselves.

Weaving the two concepts together also occurred spontaneously -- an artifact of creative subconscious, I think. That sort of serendipity is the shortcut to tapping the richness and power of metaphor.

Ybonesy, your comment reminds me that I lost sight of the process in describing the outcome. I'll do another post on the process itself. Thanks for the light beam.

Leslie F. Miller said...

I think you're terrific and am glad I stumbled on your blog (yippee for Google Alerts and vanity!).

I used to say this all the time about other people, people with a better vocabulary or a more sophisticated style. People who wrote differently. And that's just the thing. By the time you reach this level of proficiency—competence infused with delicious style—there's no better or worse; there's only different.

Thank you for the compliment. I got all teary when I realized you were actually talking about me. :-)

Would it be wrong to implore you to buy my book when it comes out in April?

Leslie F. Miller said...

Oh, P.S. I am terrified of heights. And I am also visited by a sort of Gretchen. I call it "The Suck Voice." (The illustration was done my friend. I described the suck voice to her, and she realized it was the same voice in her head.

I'm inclined to believe that Gretchen and Suck Voice serve absolutely no purpose.

Like mosquitoes.

Ritergal said...

Yay, Leslie, you found this. I would have alerted you, but didn't take time to figure out how to find you! Yes, Google alerts are great, and sure, implore away about the book. I'll keep an eye out.