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silencing your outer critic

a few months ago, i did something my younger self would have considered powerfully lame. i found a quote on line that seemed to sum up the greatest dangers to me as a writer- namely, the danger that i will cower in fear for the rest of my life and not accomplish anything- and i printed out and stuck it to the wall next to my desk. it’s a sort of inspirational cudgel, urging me to overcome my insecurities because the alternative is more frightening.

among other things, it reminds me of the dangers of giving into the power of what most creative people refer to as their “inner critic”, that annoying voice in your head (yeah, i know i’m imagining it) that tells you that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t have what it takes, that you aren’t accomplishing anything by sitting around writing things for your blog... you know the voice. the inner critic is a nasty bastard and it’s a real battle keeping him/ her/ it down.

in recent years, i’ve come a long way towards finding ways to avoid those criticisms. there are lots of tricks and if you play around, you’ll find one that works for you. my trick is that i actually argue back, to question my inner critic on every bad thought its voice puts in my head. i don’t have the talent for this? why do you think that? give me examples and they' better be beyond question. eventually, the inner critic gives up and goes away. (this process also gives me a hint as to why other people have described me as aggressive or argumentative. i can even argue myself into walking out of the proverbial room.)

what i haven’t managed to find is the equivalent process for dealing with it when the voice you’re hearing really does belong to somebody else. my inner critic i’ve learned to defeat. it’s my outer critic i’m struggling with. after all, is it really more destructive to think things that undermine your self-confidence when you know it’s just your own insecurities than it is to hear an independent, free-thinking person tear up something you’ve put your best efforts into?

don’t get me wrong, i’ve had lots of criticism that i took fairly well: constructive criticism. i try to give the same. (i’ve failed a couple of times in this regard, but i’m generally pretty consistent.) if someone wants to give me an idea of something that would work better and explain why , this helps rather than hurts. what i’m objecting to here is the sort of broad, unexplained criticisms that will tend to chip away at the self-confidence you build up. your inner qualms you can put to rest as just so much insecurity, but there is the perception that words that come out of the mouth of another person are automatically imbued with some gravity. if someone said this, there must be some validity to it.

the worst criticism i’ve had directed at me actually came from someone who hadn’t ever read anything i’d written. he just made an off-the-cuff comment that because i hadn’t been published, it meant that i wasn’t really a writer. that comment haunts me still, (although i did manage to get one thing published) because of its equation of existence and published material. what i do has no merit unless people can purchase it. i wish i could argue that point, but the moment passed several years ago. i believe at the time i just sat in hurt silence, wishing i was dead and feeling like i wasn’t that far off it. it’s bad enough when i think things like that about myself without promptinh. it’s a hundred times worse to have someone else say it. once it’s out there, it’s a lot harder to dismiss.

i’m not ever going to be able to rid myself of the outer critics, i realise. people will say things either maliciously or ignorantly and the only way to deal with it is apparently to develop a thicker skin. (i’m hoping i can buy a recipe for this on ebay.) it’s funny, because i’ve read so much about trying to conquer your own personal demons, but i have yet to hear someone come up with a really viable method of dismissing the noise you get from others. it tends to mask the damage that they can do.

until i do find that recipe for thicker skin on ebay, i figure i don't have much of a choice. what can you do to avoid harsh words except hide in the house and not talk to anyone? currently, the plan is just to be as diplomatic as possible when asked for an opinion by others and hope that they return the favour.

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