Posts Tagged ‘Inner critic’

yin_yang_treeWhen your inner critic nags you to get busy writing too early it ruins the experience. It’s premature — like thinking of sexual foreplay as procrastination.

Jumping in the sack with your text editor too soon ignores your need for rumination and inspiration. Just as the anticipation of foreplay enriches sex, ruminating, playing and teasing ideas can take your writing to exhilarating heights instead of “is that all there is?”

Shoe was always one of my favorite comic strips. In one episode, Skyler sees his uncle, Professor Cosmos Fishawk sitting and gazing out the window. Skyler says: “You’re staring out the window again. A writer should be pounding the keyboard…” The Professor replies: “Wrong. Typists pound keyboards… Writers stare out windows.”

Cosmos was ruminating. You’re allowed. When you give your inspirations and ideas permission to spill out without concern for logic and order your writing will be so much richer. Ruminating isn’t procrastination, it’s necessary.

I was thinking about balance and whole brain writing this morning so I dug out my copy of “Writing on Both Sides of the Brain” by Henriette Anne Klauser. This book was written in 1987, but the message is fresh and the book still in print. I recommend it highly. In Ms. Klauser’s words: “To be whole-brained, you need only quiet down the noisy static side of you and listen to your own imagination.”

Our right-brain, our dragon, always sends us messages but the constant know-it-all interference from our left-brain inner critic drowns out our best ideas all too often. We need the co-operation of both sides of our brains. We all have the inherent skills to be whole-brained creative. Unfortunately, we’ve never been taught how because our western culture emphasizes logical left-brain thinking at the expense of our creative selves.

Giving yourself permission to ruminate is the first step in restoring our true heritage. When I was sitting here this morning, I fired up BrainStorm and just started taking notes and recording fragments as they occurred to me. And yes, I was looking out the window much of the time. The idea of sexual foreplay and rumination kind of popped into my head.

Be sure to have pen and paper or a program like BrainStorm running in the background while you ponder and your thoughts wander. Capture your fleeting thoughts when you can. Worry about how and if you’ll use them later. Have fun — you’re allowed.

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Make-believe is “Imaginative intellectual play” (WordNet database — Princeton University). Invite your dragon to play, to help rediscover your childhood imagination, and watch your writing come alive.


Take a peek into Emily’s imaginative world.
She was a real princess that day. Emily and her friends weren’t simply pretending, they were princesses. Logical? Not for these six year old girls playing at Emily’s princess birthday party. Make-believe and childhood imagination defy logic. These princesses were/are comfortable with their dragons.

To logical beings, dragons seem terrifying. Could this be how the evil image of dragons came about? Because we were/are afraid of our inner thoughts? Logic dislikes the chaos of imagination because it doesn’t understand. Logic slays the dragon. The trouble with logic is that it wants to organize our ideas before they exist, an oxymoron.

Dragons aren’t logical. They aren’t judgmental. Their play is free flowing make-believe, what if and somewhat chaotic. Ideas and impressions come all at once as gestalts when we are relaxed with our dragons.

Stare out the window musing. Lose focus and allow your thoughts to flow freely. When an idea pops into your head simply record it without judging and go back to musing. Imagine waves crashing onto the beach during a storm — a brainstorm.

Walk along the beach collecting all the interesting things that wash up. After the storm is over invite your logical inner critic to make sense of what you’ve discovered.

The notion that we are either left-brained logical or right-brained whimsical is misguided.
We are always both, subject to the ebb and flow of the tides of thought. When we lose our balance we trip and falter.

Logic without ideas sterilizes. Ideas without logic confuses. When you recapture your childhood imagination, when you make-believe with imaginative intellectual play, your writing will come alive. But only when you suspend judgment and allow your ideas free reign in the beginning. You’ll have a rich pool to draw from and organize. Next time, I’ll show you how I use BrainStorm to capture my musings, then order them when it’s time for logic.

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cat dressedThey sit down to write, but they might open a can of cat food first. Complaining about writer’s block is like looking at the cat food dish and complaining that it’s empty. Of course it’s empty — you have to fill it. When you have deadlines and commitments, not writing isn’t an option. You don’t have the luxury of being blocked.

Don’t have a cat? We all have dragons. Dragons and cats have a lot in common. They’re independent, dislike being ordered about and respond in kind when treated with respect. And they like to be fed.

When you think you have nothing to write about, think again. Simply entice your dragon to come out and play. What? You can’t find him? Get your can opener and open a can of dragon food. He (or she) will come running.

Dragons, like cats, are highly sensitive to the smell of a freshly opened can of food. All you need is a can opener. You’re not likely to get at the food inside by staring at the can and wishing it would open. Grab that can opener, open your text editor and just start sniffing around to see what’s inside.

You may not find a scent worth following at first but you will. Keep writing and sniffing. If you can’t think of anything to write, put your hands on your keyboard and write “I can’t think of a thing I want to write about, I’m stuck, just like I was stuck in traffic the other day. That was…”

It makes no difference what you write at first. Just start.
Writer’s block is simply your inner critic getting in your face. Ignore him (or her). When you write freely, not worried about what you’re saying. When you allow the ideas to flow uncensored, your inner critic will grow bored and leave you (and your dragon alone).

You can’t “force” your writing but you can create the conditions that allow ideas to pour out. The door isn’t locked. Quit pushing. Turn the knob gently and the door will open.

Writer’s block is expecting perfection before you even begin. Not likely is it? So what if your first draft is mostly junk that you’ll throw out. You’re interested in finding the gems — and you will — just keep writing whatever comes to mind. When you find a good idea, latch on and see where it leads. You’ll be surprised and delighted.

Writer’s block? Nah. Just keep that can opener handy.

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466px-Yin_yang.svgWriting is difficult? Writing is easy? Yes it is.

“Easy gives rise to difficult … resonance harmonizes sound, after follows before.” — Lau Tzu

When the vessel is empty, fill it to overflowing. When the vessel is overflowing, distill the essence. — McD

Western thought is either/or, an artificial duality that, when focused on one aspect of some thing, excludes the other. When we write, Western thinking pits the right brain against the left in a war of control. Imagine right-brain and left-brain at opposite ends of a stick. Pick up that stick from either end and you hold both left and right in your hands. You can’t have one without the other.

The Tao embraces the interplay and dynamic unification of opposites. In the words of Carl Jung, “Our Western mind…has never yet devised a concept, not even a name for the union of opposites through the middle path, that most fundamental item of inward experience which could respectably be set against the Chinese concept of Tao.”

The Tao of writing then is the ebb and flow of right and left brain,
the interplay of intuition and rational thinking. Right brain feels and inspires but doesn’t know how to manipulate words, left brain calculates and arranges but is devoid of emotion.

The Tao of writing is a dance of partners, each taking the lead in turn, but always moving as one. Right brain (our dragon) pours forth inspiration and ideas whole while left brain (our inner critic) cooperates and guides our hand to fill the empty vessel. Later, our inner critic takes the lead to distill and arrange our ideas while our dragon helps us preserve the essence and the feeling of our words.

Writing is difficult. Writing is easy. Writing is both; and neither. Writing is a whirling dance and quiet contemplation. Writing is and — not or.

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The twins were 9 months old the other day. We all went to the diner for dinner on Monday night so naturally I brought my camera. My daughter calls me pop-poparazzi. I love B&W available light photography and who could resist subjects like these. My granddaughters have always been my favorite subjects and now we have an even half-dozen.


Say hello to Maddy (above) and Liv (below). Babies are special. Of course I’m prejudiced.


I finished the roll of film in my camera and got seven decent shots out of 36. Yeah, I still use film and process it myself. Then I scan the negatives. Gives me the best of both worlds.

Did you know that properly processed and stored B&W negatives will last for 50 to 100 years or more? No matter what happens to the digital files, my family will always have the negatives.

My dragon loves photography. Me too. I operate on pure instinct with images. Photography comes easier than writing. I suppose it’s because my inner critic is stronger when I’m writing. He’s forever pestering me. Then again, maybe my inner critic leaves me alone when I’m editing my photos because I let him play with all the controls while my dragon tells me what looks best.

Maybe the next time I write a first draft I’ll tell my inner critic that I’m not really writing, I’m only taking notes and if he’s a good boy I’ll let him play with all the buttons on my word processor. Sooner or later we’ll learn balance. It’s not that I don’t want my inner critic around. I need him, but not all the time.

I’m taking a break between books (for a few days anyway) and I though I’d share a few pictures of the girls. Not that I need excuses.

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402px-Madeline_BreckinridgeI don’t know what I’m thinking until I write. I can’t remember who said that or if my remembering is even accurate. Writing has nothing to do with word processing, the eternal quest for the perfect editor or the latest megaflop — do everything faster — super computer. Technology is the enemy of writing, a simple quill pen is much better.

All writing begins in our minds. Writing is exploring and releasing our ideas onto the page. Writing (the real kind) is discovery. I’m not kidding about the quill pen either. When you write longhand, there’s a direct connection between your mind and your hand moving across the page. Barriers dissolve when I write with my fountain pen.

When you sit staring at a blank computer screen wondering what to write
and little or nothing going through your mind ends up on the screen, your thoughts and ideas can slip away forever. When you just write what’s on your mind and edit later, you will have too much and much of what you’ve written will be crap. But you will never lose any of your thoughts and the gems will be there for harvesting.

“But I might make mistakes” you say. I sure hope so. Your inner critic, that pain in the butt editor delights in pointing his or her finger and telling you what’s wrong even as you write (or try to). Your inner critic wants to play it safe.

Creativity isn’t safe, it’s risky. Your creative self, your dragon doesn’t understand the concept of mistake, only discovery and play. So called mistakes are how we learn and how we grow.

How will you know what you’re thinking
or how your ideas will pan out until you write uninhibited? Word processing is the enemy of writing because it stands in the way. Word processing is packaging, the antithesis of writing.

Do I want to write everything out longhand? Of course not. Longhand writing helps shake out the cobwebs and fuel the creative engine. Longhand is a beginning.

Writing is also rewriting,
the stage when you need the cooperation of both sides of your brain and the technology of a good editor or word processor. But only after you’ve given birth to your ideas.

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Trying to get the words out by brute force is like pounding on a bottle of cold ketchup. It never works. Warm up with some fun and the words will pour out faster than you can type. Follow Julia’s example and be silly. Bet you can’t look at this picture without smiling. Go ahead, poke yourself (gently) between the eyes, go cross-eyed and laugh at yourself. I promise you that your dragon will join in the fun.

Cross eye julia

We get so caught up in our adult logic that we forget to be silly. We forget the source of our words, choke them off and leave our dragon draggin’. You can’t write from the heart with passion when your dragon is lying there, wings covering his eyes because he can’t bear to watch you suffer the insults of your inner critic, when he wants to help and you won’t let him.

When we choose to be silly, our inner critic is likely to roll his eyes with an “Oh please, act your age. Let’s get busy here.” Wow, now we’re on to something. If we’re silly enough, if we’re having fun, maybe our inner critic will go away and leave us alone so we can be creative.

Kids are endlessly creative. Kids are silly. Kids have fun. Adults are supposed to take themselves seriously. Horse hockey! Every one of us is a creative being. We all know how to be creative, but too often we lose sight and forget. We forget that all of our passion comes from our feelings. Trust your feelings because they are trying to tell you something.

Push yourself away from your computer,
get out of your chair and stare out the window. Hop on your bike and go for a ride. Play with your kids. Laugh at yourself and relish the world around you. Feel life. Pay attention.

When you come back and sit down to write, listen to your dragon
as he or she whispers in your ear. Let your words spill out across the screen. Hurry, before your inner critic wakes up and spoils your fun.

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How can a writer possibly describe a moment like this? Julia seems so innocent, so calm, so at peace with herself and her world. Words would break the spell. I simply can’t find the words. And I can’t help but think that any words I choose to describe this moment would fall into an empty void.

Julia's World

Julia's World

Zen is wordless. Babies are wordless too. Maybe they know something we don’t. Have you ever wondered what goes on in a baby’s mind? And wished you could remember being a baby? I think all babies are totally right brain creatures. They haven’t eaten of the fruit of knowledge. They aren’t logical (yet).

When we sit down to write, logic paralyzes our creativity. We worry about grammar and spelling and our logical inner critic doesn’t like any of our ideas. What if we could approach writing with the innocence of a baby?

All writing begins within our creative selves. When we wonder, when we sit musing quietly, ideas bubbling and whirling in our minds, we are writing. When we sit at the computer, fingers on the keyboard, maybe we’re just dictating — writing done.

What if babies could write? What would they say? What if we could return to the innocence of Julia? What would we say?

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When those first few words simply refuse to come. When you sit in front of the blank screen puzzled. Give your inner critic the task of describing what you want to write about (he or she is probably good at that), then turn the job of distilling the essence of your article over to your dragon.


Begin with a short paragraph telling yourself what your article is about. Four or five sentences should be enough. Now drill down to a single descriptive word (not a phrase) that embodies the theme of your piece. It’s OK to pick out a few words, but settle on the best of the lot.

Get a clean sheet of paper, write your word in the center, circle it and cluster. Let go and don’t censor, simply relax and turn your dragon loose. Write down whatever pops into your head; synonyms, examples you might never have thought of otherwise, and so on. You’ll discover new ideas, ideas that you can use to reinforce your main point and give your article real cohesion.

Keep going until you feel the urge to write. Don’t worry, you’ll know when. Let the words flow, again without censoring and write a short vignette. When you finish, read it over and you’ll probably surprise yourself with the first draft of a solid opening paragraph.

It’s so much easier to write a good piece when you understand what you want to write about before you begin. By distilling your idea down to a single word, by finding connections and examples to illustrate your main idea, you’ll have laid the foundation for a solid opening paragraph and a single focus that will bring your article to life.

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Clustering opens the floodgates of creativity. It quiets your inner critic and invites your creative self (I think of him as my dragon) to come out and play. Clustering is easy, it’s quick and it works. I learned (am still learning) the technique from “Writing the Natural Way” by Gabriele Rico, PhD.

Here’s an example that illustrates how clustering works for me and what I did each step of the way. I always use a blank sheet of paper and one of my fountain pens when I cluster. I recreated my hand drawn cluster with FreeMind so I could include it here.

Screenshot-FreeMind - MindMap Mode - As.mm

This sequence comes from the “What Am I?” metaphor exercise in Chapter Ten. I put “as” in the center of a sheet, drew a circle around it and clustered whatever popped into my head. I simply wrote down what my dragon told me. In one branch (the first I think) I saw myself as light, in the other as a bird. I don’t recall how long this took but clusters typically take less than three minutes, often less than a minute. Just let loose, trust your dragon and let the ideas rip.

At some point you’ll experience what Dr. Rico calls The Trial-Web Shift. As you cluster, you suddenly just know what you want to write about and you start writing.

This next step is what she calls the vignette. Go with it and write quickly. It will only take a minute or two. Here’s my vignette from this cluster.

I am a great hawk clinging to a strong branch, swaying, accepting the power of the wind, climbing into the light of sudden insight, plunging earthward, claws extended, pouncing on my prey and flying off, my latest idea, my newest insight screaming, then quiet as I find safe haven, land to devour and digest. I’m always hungry.

Once you have that first rough vignette, go back and play with it until you’re satisfied. You may want to invite your inner critic to join the party with you and your dragon.

I didn’t do anything with the vignette that day. I put my sketchbook away and came back to it another day. It wanted to be a poem so I played, wrote out and crossed out four pages of handwritten poem drafts until I was satisfied. I probably managed a few more tweaks when I typed out the final draft.


Here’s the final published version

Poetry: Ideas

A great hawk
I watch and wait
spiraling on thermals of insight

A great hawk
I thunder silently
impaling the unwary

A great hawk
I stretch my wings
dripping the blood of ideas

A great hawk
I settle to ground
devouring in delight

A great hawk
I watch and wait
riding my hunger

So what do you think? Does this help? Not being the bashful type, I’d be happy to do more of these. Let me know. Writing the Natural Way is a fantastic book. Not dry with theory, it’s a real course that pulls you in as a participant and it works. I had absolutely no idea where my clustering would lead and ended up with a neat little poem. Clustering is like magic. Maybe because dragons are magical creatures?

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