What’s the Big Deal about Your Inner Critic?

Well, I’ll tell you: she’s taking up space in your head that could be put to better use.

And thanks to Robert Dugoni, I learned to tell my inner critic to pack her bags and move.

Just a month ago I sat in on Robert Dugoni’s presentation on editing at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Dugoni is the best-selling author of several political/legal thrillers featuring attorney David Sloane (Murder One is the most recent in the series.)

While outlining his approach to editing, Dugoni said this about the first draft: decide it is just for you, don’t let anyone read it.

Why? Because if you think someone will read your first draft, that person will sit on your shoulder as you write. Watching, and commenting on, every word you put on the page.

Most writers have inner critics and try to find ways to deal with them. Some use outlines to quiet the critic’s snide comments that the plot sucks, some listen to loud music to drown out the critic’s noise, some meditate or medicate the critic away.

Others resign themselves to sharing their writing space with the critic. I am one of those. Or I was, until Dugoni made me realize why I shared that space with the critic in the first place. I invited her in! And she’s an aggressive sort, who promptly unpacked her bags and raided the fridge.

But if I decide that my first draft is just for me, and that I will not allow anyone to read it, Dugoni says, it frees me to:

  • figure out who my characters are when no one’s looking,
  • write crappy exploratory scenes, and
  • of course, get the first draft onto the page.

The comment about writing crappy exploratory scenes reminded me about Anne Lamott’s chapter titled “Shitty First Drafts” in her bookBird by Bird, and prompted me to re-read it. Lamott states that almost all good writing begins as a terrible first draft. She describes a first draft as a child, which you allow to romp around, knowing that later you can guide it, calm it, mold it.

Lamott’s statement about good writing beginning its life as a piece of garbage gives me hope. I can write stinky first drafts. Without a doubt.  My problem is that, if I’m not in the groove, getting the first draft onto the page is like waiting for water to boil when the burner is set at simmer.

And that’s because I edit as I write. I’ll write a paragraph, back up and delete parts, or move sections, change words. My internal editor makes me do it.

In “Shitty First Drafts” Lamott mentions that no one will see the first draft. For some reason, I didn’t see it as a solution when I first read that chapter. Perhaps because I had accepted my inner critic as a fact of life. She was there. I was being punished for some failing.

But at the Surrey conference, when Robert Dugoni advised us to decide not to allow anyone to see the first draft, and thus keep the critic off our shoulder, I had an “aha” moment.  I was in control, I was not being punished, my critic would have to find another roommate.

Now, the titles of my first drafts include “FIRST DRAFT, MY EYES ONLY”. And I have produced some terrible first drafts quickly.

My inner critic reappears daily, bags in hand, waiting for me to weaken. I invite her in when I get to the second draft of a piece, when she can do me some good. But even so, I make her park her bags outside the door.

Related Posts
Filter by
Post Page
The Story Behind the Story Featured Fiction New Fiction Essays/Articles (all) Flash Talk Flash Audio Series
Sort by

Story Behind the Story: The Artichoke Dinner

The Artichoke Dinner was one of the first stories I wrote. It came to me one night after I had had dinner with my
2018-11-21 09:18:18
annie-de-benedictis

18

“The Artichoke Dinner”

Her father had slapped her twice already. Her face is still red from the blows. Tears run down her cheeks. She is
2018-10-31 09:17:09
annie-de-benedictis

18

“Quiet Agony: Joshua Ferris’ ‘The Dinner Party’ Review”

Ten years ago, Joshua Ferris burst onto the literary scene with his wonderful, unique novel, Then We
2017-05-20 06:36:07
petite

18

“Dinner”

Dinner is braised rabbit with fennel and mustard. The rabbit meat, Dad says, reminds him of Iowa in the winter. He
2015-02-14 06:20:21
fisherdy

18

Flash Audio Series: “Dinner”

2014-10-05 06:10:39
fisherdy

18

“Mysticism for beginners”

So on the way to dinner (for shits and giggles, she said) my date and I went into the head shop, Julia with her blue
2011-10-03 01:35:25
griner

18

“Gravitate”

I. They stand side by side facing a row of dining room cabinets. Audrey examines each one carefully, looking
2019-08-21 09:36:14
rlittell

8

“Lowlands”

Alan asked me to meet him halfway between Brussels and Paris, at a restaurant around the
2019-08-09 23:36:34
rciresi

8

“Baby Lanes”

“Excuse me. I’m over here in the lane next to you and noticed you’re bowling very well tonight.” “That’s quite
2019-08-07 09:34:00
ctank08

8

About Charlotte Morganti

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. In addition to her law degree, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her short fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review and The Whole She-Bang 2. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. She lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband and the quirky characters who populate her fiction.