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Equally Love your Critic and Cheerleader

Stop.  Don’t you dare turn your nose up at this post’s title.  “Critic” and “cheerleader” are not vile words nor are they to be feared.  These are two words that, as a writer, you must equally embrace for there should be no bigger critic or cheerleader of your work than yourself.  If you can’t critique or have pride in your own work, how can you expect anyone to accept it?

Your inner critic is your worst enemy in championing your work.  That forsaking voice, whispering in your mind That’s a horrible idea, this story is a piece of crap, can be an jerk and needs to be toned down.  You can’t let it rule your mind.  Allowing the critic to always speak will fill you with negativity and discomfort, which puts fear in your heart and pushes you away from writing.    Keep your critic in place with the voice of your inner cheerleader.

Your inner cheerleader is your pride.  It’s that voice that says You are amazing, the best ever.  The cheerleader can sometimes be full of themselves and needs to chill out.  You can’t let this voice rule your mind either.  Too much cheerleader will make you self-centered and narcissistic.  You will lose sight of what is going on around you because the focus is only on “you”.  Keep the cheerleader in check with your inner critic.

A balance needs to be established between the two where one does not outweigh the other.  As a writer you must have both.  Too heavy at one end of the spectrum will make you arrogant, thinking your work is the best thing in the world.  At the other end, your craft will waste away into nothingness because you have no pride or faith in your prose.

The hell at each end

  • Writer John tends to have a larger critic in his mind than a cheerleader.  Out of a fear of rejection, he analyzes every detail of his work, trying to make it perfect for his readers.  While to an extent this is beneficial because it prevents the publication of “bad writing”, John’s over analyzing and lamenting on every aspect severely damages his stories.   Finding fault in every little thing leads to not producing.   Too much internal criticism is so counter-productive to the writing craft.
  • Writer Jane thinks her words are pure gold and ignores constructive insight from peers, beta readers, and editors. Her inner cheerleader screams that her work is the best thing to hit the press and she achieved success with no help from others.  What Jane doesn’t realize is she has alienated herself, closing the door on her existing support group.  Also, she potentially turned off a paying audience with her conceited attitude.  The writing life is not a solitary life.  Modestly interacting with other writers and readers while openly engaging in feedback opens new opportunities toward success.

These are the extreme ends of the spectrum.  Scary – isn’t it?  On one end, you are empty handed with little or no written (published) work.  On the other end, you have multiple publications that may not be that good and no support network.

As a writer, you have to keep these two voices in check and balanced.  Your critic teaches you to be cautionary.  Your cheerleader allows you have fun and feel a sense of achievement.

But how can you create this balance? 

Subdue your negativity with positivity.

When you start to get down on yourself, thinking bad about your work, stop what you are doing and say one nice thing out loud about the piece.  Then remind yourself why you are writing in the first place.  Take a trip back to your goals and tell yourself how badly you want to achieve them.

You may think you are right – but still stop and listen.

Yea, yea… you may know everything about anything, but that doesn’t mean that you are right.  If someone is giving you feedback: stop, listen, and absorb what they are saying.  You may pick up on something that you have never though / heard  of before.  And seriously, just because someone offers you feedback, it is okay not to accept it — just be polite about it.  Don’t burn your bridges. 

Also, there is nothing against a good old debate!  Just no arguing.  Gently talk about the feedback with the reviewer.  Understand why they are suggesting it and discuss why why you see your point as the way to proceed.  You may come out of the debate with a whole new idea, different from your view and the reviewer’s feedback.

Never stop learning

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous item, but feedback (positive or negative) is a learning experience.  Review the feedback and let it reside in the balance between your inner critic and inner cheerleader.  If the feedback is constructive criticism, reiterate to yourself that you produced something and you are proud of what you had done.  However, review and accept the critique.  Don’t get upset by it, learn from it.  If it is something that you acknowledge needs to change in your writing process, then change it.

Be gentle with the voices in your head.

If one is overpowering the other, take a break from what you are working on and assess why your inner critic or cheerleader is being more vocal.  There may be something that you need to pay attention too.  Maybe there is a mistake that you overlooked or you are subconsciously thinking negatively about yourself.

If one is being too loud for no apparent reason other than to annoy you, then kindly tell it to pipe down.  Acknowledge and thank it for it’s opinion, but you know what you are doing.

Honor the balance between the critic and the cheerleader.

You are your own best cheerleader and critic — no one can be that for you.  Take a humbled happiness in the fact that you are able to balance between these two voices.  This will make you a little saner, your writing stronger, and your love for the writing craft grow.

Practice, practice, practice!

You are not going to find this balance overnight.  Well-honed authors will sometime stumble with embracing both voices equally.  You may find the balance for years, then one day out of the blue one voice will start to speak louder than the other.  Remember what you must to do keep the balance in check.  Don’t get discouraged if this takes time to achieve.  Love and honor yourself — the balance will fall into place.

I am a very critical person of myself and struggle to expose my writing.  I turn to blog writing to give my inner cheerleader strength.  Every week it is an endeavour to get something, like this post, written and published.  However, once it is out to the public, I feel a little more stable and edge closer to that happy medium between my inner critic and inner cheerleader.

Where are you with your inner voices?  Have you found your balance?  If so, how did you attain it?
(c) BK (c)  Original Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar

(c) BK
(c) Original Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar

13 thoughts on “Equally Love your Critic and Cheerleader

  1. I could so relate to this post, Amanda. I try to stay balanced, but if I’m going to fall out-of-whack, it will always be the inner-critic. I am my own worst enemy. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  2. Sounds like we are quite similar 😉 If you examined the pulse of my emotional heartbeat as a writer over the course of a week, it would be all over the map. Working up to publishing a post is difficult work for me. But, once I hit the publish button, the balance shifts a bit closer to the middle of cheerleader and critic.

    As I was reading this, I was subconsciously thinking about how the act of writing and everything you so eloquently stated is a microcosm of everything in life. Calling on your writer’s advice in other areas of our lives would seem to serve ourselves just as well 😉

    As always, thanks for sharing, great post!

    • Thanks, Dave!

      Great point about this balance can assist in everyday life. I had not thought about that. The balance can be used as like a zen area in life, where one can seek when daily life becomes chaotic or challenging. This is something that I need to think about more outside of my writing realm, because my inner critic is awful in my daily life. Thanks for that.

  3. A great way I learned these lessons was by teaching and working with less experienced writers. I had this hammered home to me by seeing this at play in students after student and class after class. I also have had to realize that although my writing is very personal to me and comes from me, each piece is its own thing. Ultimately my goal is to make each piece fulfill its own possibilities. I don’t achieve that by denigrating it as worthless, and I don’t achieve that by pretending it’s flawless. It may seem contradictory, but the praise I seek isn’t “You, writer guy, are amazing!” it’s “That piece you wrote made me think/feel/understand/question etc.” A writer’s job is to serve the writing, and that requires doing all the things you talk about above.

    • “A writer’s job is to serve the writing . . .” — No wonder you fit in so well over here at the Sarcastic Muse! Robyn has written something to that effect before. That writing can’t be about the ego, it has to be about the words on the page. The thing is, our egos can get in the way in any of the above-mentioned cases: whether through (too much) self-critique or (too much) self-confidence.

      And I definitely agree with you! For me, the greatest accomplishment of my writing career would be to write something that makes people think or feel or question.

    • I love hearing about your first hand experience with your students and how that brought this balance to light for you.

      And I cannot agree more with “That piece you wrote made me think/feel/understand/question etc.”. That is exactly what a writer’s goal should be. I don’t find that contradictory at all. We are here to serve the writing – not our own egos.

  4. I think it’s easy in the first draft to ignore my cheerleader and my critic. It’s when I get to the First Read that I fall apart. It is so hard and sobering to realize what I wrote. Silent

    • Ahh. Let me borrow that ability. I have the bad habit of reading over what I’ve already written — so I fall apart in the first draft regardless.

      At least if you get to the First Read, though, it means you have finished that difficult first draft. I think that’s something to cheer about (no matter how much the inner critic starts raging). 🙂

    • Same here! I need to borrow that as well as I too am brutal as I write my first draft (Michelle and I are afflicted the same).

      But I agree with Mischelle on the First Read. Let your inner cheerleader sing with happiness that you finished.

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