Alisa Bowman

Bauman Ink, Ltd - owner
Emmaus, PA

    How to silence your inner critic

    April 1, 2009

    I don't know about you, but my inner critic is ruthless, and she starts tearing me down the moment I get out of bed and step on the scale. Just this morning, for instance, she sneered, "See? I told you! If you hadn't have eaten that chocolate mouse parfait last night, you'd be two pounds lighter this morning! You had to be such a pig, didn't you?"

    I have a Positive Voice, too, and she tries to fight off Mrs. Negativity whenever possible, but she's not always quick on her feet. For instance, this morning, she groggily said, "But it tasted so good. And I deserved it. Didn't I?"

    The inner critic pecks away at me all day long. As I parent, she says things like, "You're such a bad mom" and "if you were a good mom, you would..." As I write, she's right there, too, saying, "This is garbage. You've lost your touch. You're washed up. Face it: you should change careers."

    Seriously. It's amazing I have the courage to face and live each and every day with a voice like that. But I do. I do because I've learned to selectively silence Mrs. Negativity, as needed.

    You see, despite what many other people will tell you, I don't think my negative voice is always bad. My inner critic can be quite helpful when I need to motivate myself to go the extra mile. Other people might think something is "good enough" when my inner critic says it's "a sloppy mess." In this way, she encourages me to go from "good enough" to "super wow."

    But she's not always helpful. When I'm staring at a blank computer screen and she's telling me that I'm a good-for-nothing washed up has-been writer, she's sooooo not helpful. Which is exactly what was happening about a week ago as I was trying to write the book proposal for my memoir.

    For the uninitiated, a quick definition: The proposal is the document that sells the idea of the memoir to a potential publisher. It contains an overview that describes the book and how it fits in with other similar titles, a chapter outline with summaries, an author bio, and a marketing section.

    As I stared at my blank screen she told me, "Nobody in her right mind will want to read your book. You wasted your time writing this. You should just use it for doodle paper."

    It was just so completely motivating, you know?

    To shut her up, I posted a status update to Facebook that said, "I will face my fear of rejection and write this damn memoir proposal now. Email = off. Facebook = off (soon). Phone = off. Butt = in desk chair. Courage = on."

    Within just a few minutes, 9 people commented, telling me to "just do it" and "you go girl" and lots of stuff like that.

    It seemed to confuse my negative voice. Instead of telling me that I sucked as a writer, she got all focused on how many friends I did or did not have and, during that moment of confusion, I was able to type away.

    She came to right as I finished my draft of the overview. She said, "I don't care if you do have a lot of friends who love you. What you just wrote is complete crap and you know it."

    I said, "We'll see about that."

    Each day, I worked on it a little at a time. Each time I worked on it, she hissed her usual negative stuff. She told me things like, "Sure you're really good at ghosting proposals for other people, but you can't do it for yourself" and, "You're going to sound like a nobody trying to sound like a somebody."

    About the marketing section, she said, "This is lies. All lies. You can't do all of this stuff. They are going to see right through this crap."

    I wanted to amputate her, you know?

    But I persevered.

    Until I couldn't persevere anymore. I got stuck on the chapter summaries and on This Meets That. This Meets That is a line that usually goes in a proposal, and it melds two popular books together to describe the current project. This is something that I'm not all that good at (see: there she is again), so I'm not even going to sit here for an hour trying to come up with an example for you. My This Meets Thats were all over the place, including:

    Desperate Housewives meets It's a Wonderful Life

    Beauty and the Beast meets The Year of Living Biblically

    The Miracle Worker meets The Road Less Traveled

    Honestly, none of them are terrible (note: my negative voice disagrees with that statement), but my negative voice got so vicious that I became paralyzed. I could not finish the proposal.

    So I called my agent and told him that I sucked. He suggested I let him read it. I told him, "No way. It's not perfect yet." He didn't know what to do with me, so I think he sighed.

    Later that day, I sent it to him, attached to an email that listed all of the things that I already knew were wrong with it, including that I thought my voice sounded snotty. He emailed back later and said, "It's PERFECT.  You are way, way too hard on yourself. It's not snotty at all... You do a great job of telling the story succinctly, explaining what the book is from a publishing perspective, and conveying your voice."

    And then you know what happened? I stuck duct tape over Mrs. Negativity's mouth. I gave myself a little pep talk. I read some of the emails that I stored in my "feel good folder" and I tried to pretend I was writing a proposal about someone else's book and a marketing section about how someone else would promote said book.

    Today, I finished a rough draft of the entire thing. I felt confident enough about it that I pulled the duct tape off Mrs. Negative's mouth. Her first words were, "None too shabby." And, perhaps to keep me from putting the tape back on, she said, "Have you lost weight? You're looking really skinny today."

    Seriously. I think she's learned her lesson.

    Lessons Learned 

    • Sometimes we need others to help us silence our inner critics. It's okay to tell friends and colleagues about the negative voices in our heads and to ask them to feed us compliments. Chances are, they have negative voices, too.

    • It's easier to see the positive in others than it is to see it in ourselves. When writing Bios and other materials that require a great deal of self-praise, pretend you are writing about someone else.

    • Use Facebook status updates to your advantage. Chances are, your friends can't wait to cheer you on.

    • The Negative Voice will be strongest when you are taking a big step toward an important goal. To hush it, break the big step down into tiny baby steps, shuffling a short way toward your goal at a time.

    How do you silence your inner critic? Leave a comment.

    If you enjoyed this blog, Alisa thinks you might also enjoy reading How to Face Your Biggest Fear  at her Project Happily Ever After site. Even her inner critic likes this particular blog entry.

    Read Alisa's other blog entries >

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