Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Post: Cultivating Your Inner Critic

Benoit Lelievre blogs at Dead End Follies, where he likes to talk about writing, reading, movies and pop culture in general. He lives in Montreal, Canada. Thanks, Ben, for writing today’s post:

Let me guess. You follow a hundred, maybe two hundred blogs on your Google Reads and most of them are about writing? You’ve read the books Donald Maass, Ray Bradbury and Lawrence Block wrote on the subject. You have critique partners and attend several workshops. You have faith that you can write a book, but every day, somebody makes you doubt your decision and makes you feel like starting over again.

I’m sorry if this breaks your heart, but none of these people care about your novel. In fact, nobody does. Nobody but you. Until your book is out and published, you’re your biggest fan. I’m not looking to discourage you here. Just to make you realize something. Writing advice will only get you so far. Writing your guts off will make you go the extra mile and reach publication.

Making distance between you, advisors and critics is vital. These are a necessary part of the process, but they don’t control your work. If you feel that something works, despite what the others think, keep it. Take novelist Josh Stallings, for example. The bad guys in his novel BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD are somewhat cardboardish. They don’t have a strong identity. It’s a big no-no in the writing playbook, but in Stallings’ novel, it works. Because his novel is driven by his famous character, Moses McGuire. It’s about him, his inner demons and his journey to a better life that forever eludes him.

You have to cultivate your inner critic. You will know in your gut if what’s on the page works or not. It’s your story after all. Be your own editor. If you care to make your prose tight and your storytelling fluid, people will start enjoying your stories. Editors will notice you, because you make their lives easier. Let go of the playbook. You’ve read it over and over again. Reading it another time will make you fall into the hell of second guessing. Step up and take responsibility for your work. Until it’s under press, you’re the only one who cares.

Do you find it easy or difficult to trust your own judgement when it comes to your writing? How do you decide who to listen to?

Thanks again, Ben, for a wonderful post on a topic that’s close to my heart.

If anyone would like a guest post spot here, please send me an email.

Also, Jamie at Mithril Wisdom is having a brilliant giveaway. Click here to check it out.


  1. Handsome devil, that Mithril fella ;)
    Excellent post; I know that as soon as I've finished writing something, I'll not want anyone to see it because they'll want to change it and, in the end, it's my baby :P I quickly get over that stage though, luckily.

  2. overly confident writers sometimes scare me :)
    But I'm always for taking up responsibility!

  3. I had doubts, but am feeling more confident again.

    There are a few things I know my crit partners are wrong about, so I'm sticking to my guns.

    Learning which advice to take and which to ignore takes practice. Like everything else in this profession.

  4. Well, I know no one cares about my novel but me. Agents tell me that every day. :P

  5. Thank you Ben and Lydia!

    It's good to trust in one's instincts above all else but also good to listen with an open mind to a maximum two/three trusted CPs. I hope so anyway!


    Take care

  6. Ben, you sound like my kind of dude!
    I trust myself, but I'm very open to suggestions from my critique partners. They nudge me in just the right direction.

  7. Jamie, haha yep I can relate to that. It's important to have the freedom to write like YOU want to write...and then fix it.

    Dezzy, the trick is finding that middle ground.

    M Pax, good to hear you're getting your confidence back.

    L G Smith, lol

    Old Kitty, absolutely.

  8. Alex, oops, you snuck in while I was responding to comments... yep, crit partners are so important to have. It's also good you trust yourself.

  9. I have no pride. I listen to every suggestion given, but it's not until I hear it AT LEAST twice I really feel it's 100% valid. Anything else a critiquer suggests is either black, white, or personal preference.

  10. "Writing your guts off," I love that and that will stay with me! I consider all critiques, then let it stew a while before making revisions. That seems to work for me.

  11. 'Editors will notice you, because you make their lives easier.'

    I like.

  12. Developing the inner critic is a lengthy and ever evolving process.

    Nice post!

  13. Thanks everybody (thanks to Lynda for having me)

    Dezmond. It's not a question of confidence, but a question of knowing what works and what doesn't. If you can criticize yourself properly, you're already one length ahead.

  14. I walk the line on trusting my inner critic. If people tell me it's great and I think it sucks, I will SO give into peer pressure. HA! But if I know it's great and people just don't get it, I will walk away from it and look at it in weeks. Sometimes I see what they're saying, and sometimes they just don't get it.

  15. Learning to find and then trust your inner critic isn't easy - but it's vital if we want to improve. I'm getting better at this :)

  16. I love getting feedback on my writing, good and bad, but I can pretty easily determine the feedback I think is legit. Not that all feedback doesn't have value, but like you said, you have to trust your gut on whether you use it or not.

    Great post!

  17. Hi Ben--nice to see you here--(& in a dark font on a light background:-))

    This is so true. We have to know when to turn off our inner critic and when to turn it back on. I fall in love with my book in first draft, then hate it in the second and third. Then I think it might be OK when I send it out, then when it gets rejected, I think it sucks and edit the hell out of it again. That's when I need to kick the critic to the curb, but I usually let it sit in my head like a little black cloud.

    But hey, I just got a novel accepted by a small press today. The editor sent me an email that said, "Wow. I'll put the contract in the mail tomorrow."

    So shut up, inner critic. So there!

  18. Gosh, this is a great post. I'm currently reading Finding Your Own Voice by Les Edgerton, and he touches on these same points. To quit trying to conform to what you "think" people want to read or what you "think" Madam Uber Editor will publish, and just write your darned story! In YOUR voice.

    Easier said than done. Sometimes I think we have to retrain ourselves. Recapture our natural voices that have somehow gotten lost on the road from childhood to adulthood. It's a fact: We let WAY too many people influence our work, when--just as Ben pointed out--we're the artist. It's our story, our baby. Write it the way you want.

    Yep. Definitely sage advice. Thank you!

  19. Crystal, yep, that's a good way to approach it.

    LynNerd, stewing time is important.

    Suze, me too

    Ibdiamond, I don't think we ever stop developing it.

    Ben, thanks again for writing a great post.

    Beth, haha yep.

    Jemi, so true.

  20. Ben....lets shake hands. You are my kind of a writer. Till a month back I did not have a Crit Partner, for my first lot of books, I just trusted my Inner Editor.
    But, let me confess, I am enjoying my interaction with my CP...she is awesome.
    Thanks, Lynda for this hosting Ben.

  21. Alexia, getting feedback is crucial, just as trusting your gut.

    Anne, hehe, gotta love the dark font on a light background ;) And a huge congrats on getting your novel accepted by a small press!!

    Aylssia, sounds like a good book. I approve of non-conformists in writing. It takes bravery and skill to get it right.

    Rachna, That's great to hear about your new CP :)

  22. I think just like writing, judging your own work, gets better the more you write. If I take a break and read published books that I know did it right and then go back to my own, it's easier to pick out the parts that need to be fixed. Great post, Benoit!

  23. Great post! I use my inner critic to motivate me for sure. That, and fear!

  24. Hi Lydia,

    I find it easy to trust my own writing. The problem is that after a while of writing it I like it too well. It becomes imperative to have someone else have a looksie to give me a heads up and let me know if I'm screwing up. There should come a time when we stop stalling and trust our instict though. It's all really about telling a great story. Great advice! Thanks for posting. :)

  25. Great reminder, this guest post. Thanks to Benoit and you too, Lyn. I've learned to trust my judgment more. Usually it's those things that niggle at you that you KNOW you should probably fix, and then a CP mentions it. You groan and go make the changes. :)

  26. Amen, couldn't agree more. It's difficult, but essential. I find that I try to save most most important self-critiques until I'm in the editing process, because if I start out to critical I'll never get through the first draft.

  27. Great post, an not just because you mentioned my book. I agree we have to be our own editors, it comes with the job of writing. I turn the inner-critic off whilst I write, then the next day before moving forward I look at what I wrote the day before and I am merciless, absolutely brutal. I find myself continually removing words, first passes I tend to over write. So am am always hacking away to find the story under all those words. There are a few writers I trust and my wife to give me harsh critique. They find holes I may have missed. But as you say I am the one who cares most about my writing, so final choices come to me.

  28. Good question, but hard to answer! I think I'm my own worst critic at this stage, though I've had some tough ciricism at a writer's message board. The rule is to post not more than 500 words. I had gone over and over those 500 words before I posted them, and can you believe how much was still off, weird or just plain wrong with it? Haha, that was a shocking revelation, but in a good way.

  29. Lynda - Great Post! I am getting better at trusting my inner critique.

  30. Great post…

    I don’t trust my technical l side of writing, but trust my ability when it comes to story.

    I hope to marry the two someday.

    I seek advice from people above my skill set… and still only take into account what works best for me.

  31. I used to think I was the best writer in the world and then I sent chapters off to beta readers. Apparently, I was crap. However, I moved on and worked hard on my writing craft until I got picked up for publication. I always listen to critics, every one of them but then I weigh each opinion before I decided what to do.

  32. Superb advice. I read a post recently where an agent said she'd rather find raw talent, and to be weary of ignoring your gut instinct in favour of critique advice. Thank you, Benoit and Lynda.

  33. Great post, Lynda!

    When all is said and done, it's the words that matter, and noone knows those words better than the writer him/herself.

    Sometimes, though, I feel TOO darned close to my WIP. Like I need to step out of the grotto of nouns and verbs and intentionally seek out another opinion. Or two. Or three. Or four.

  34. Great post and excellent advice! Thanks.

  35. Great post and excellent advice! Thanks.

  36. Laura, yes, that's why I think it's just as important to read as much as we write.

    Talli, haha, ah yes, so familiar with the fear factor ;)

    Laila, love that: stop stalling and trust our instinct. So true!

    Carol, yes!! Exactly

    Mark, yep, we shouldn't worry too much about the first draft except maybe overall structure

  37. Josh, gotta love to hack! And like you say, it's still essential to have trusted people to tell you about the holes you may have missed.

    Dawrei, yep, it still boggles me how much my CPs pick up even after I've been through the ms multiple times.

    Maeve, awesome

    Jeff, it's good to know your strengths and weakness. It also makes it easier to find a good match in a crit partner.

    Clarissa, hahaha I can relate ;)

    Ellie, yes! Absolutely! Only we can write our own books.

    Bryce, yes, absolutely. That's why it's important to take breaks and have crit partners.

    Nas, thanks


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