One of the greatest fears that writers share is a worry that the writing won’t be good enough. We fear our poems and stories will be boring and we’re not meant to be writers because our work, to put it simply, will suck. To help overcome this fear, I suggest we think of our writing selves as three distinct roommates who share an apartment—The Writer, The Inner Critic, and The Slacker. Unfortunately, these roommates don’t get along. The Writer hates The Inner Critic. The Inner Critic wages a quiet battle against The Writer. And The Slacker annoys both by watching TV too loudly and sleeping all day. To solve the problem it’s best to separate the three personalities so we might learn the benefits that each can bring to our writing home.
The Writer is a source of pure creativity, the very reason we fell in love with writing. It is the inspired muse—and it doesn’t worry about whether a poem/story/essay is good or bad, nor badger itself about being a failure (that’s Inner Critic talk). No, The Writer simply writes for the very joy that comes from putting words on a page.
Welcoming The Writer home means dispelling the notion that great writers simply sit down and pen their books in a single draft. More often, the experience of writing is like cliff diving without knowing whether there’s actually water below. It’s a freefall toward mystery, and no writer I know has ever produced a perfect draft without weeks, months, and years of revision. For this reason, it’s crucial we put away the idea of perfection and instead allow ourselves to dwell in the feeling of pure creativity. To do this means kicking The Inner Critic and The Slacker out of the apartment. Then, when they’re gone, we can give ourselves license to relax, to play, and in turn, to become reacquainted with the prolific creativity of The Writer. I recommend staying in this exuberant state for as long as possible, both to rejuvenate and nourish The Writer, but also because The Writer is the one to produce the completed first drafts of our poems and stories. Then, when the pages have been produced, it’s time to kick The Writer out of the apartment and invite the Inner Critic back in.
The Inner Critic (aka The Editor)
Most writers I know are intimately familiar with The Inner Critic. While its voice differs for everyone, its nasty comments are almost always the same. Why are you bothering writing? You don’t have talent. Don’t you know your writing sucks? Not only does The Inner Critic deliver this shredding diatribe, but it does so whenever The Writer is trying to get work done. Sometimes, The Inner Critic can become so loud that The Writer can’t finish a single sentence without second-guessing themselves. This awful state is known as writer’s block. Who is this horrible roommate? And why, did The Writer invite the Inner Critic to move in?
It turns out The Inner Critic is simply a poorly-trained housemate, and while it’s worth banishing them when working on first drafts, we don’t want to evict them forever. After all, first drafts do kind of suck, which only means they need editing and revision. And it’s here’s where The Inner Critic can become a vital roommate known as The Editor. Because, despite the joys that The Writer brings to the apartment, The Writer is over-emotionally attached to first drafts. In their worst form, The Writer believes everything they write is pure brilliance.
To transform The Inner Critic into The Editor, it’s important to hold a house meeting. Tell the Inner Critic that this is an apartment where writing happens, and you need The Inner Critic’s help. The Inner Critic needs to be a champion of your writing process, and if they’ll do that, then they earn the privilege of their new nickname: The Editor. In exchange, The Writer promises not to become weepy and morose when The Editor, rightfully, cuts the first stanza, or edits out the amazing first two paragraphs of a story, or suggests removing the last two chapters. The Editor’s doing their work with the aim of creating a successful piece that will reach the hearts, minds, and eyes of readers.
Finally, we have The Slacker. And, let’s be honest, The Slacker is a lot of fun. They’re always up for going to the bar, binging on TV shows, or calling up friends to talk about writing (instead of actually doing it). They like taking naps, Facebook/Instagram scrolling, and reading really important blogposts. And yes, The Slacker sometimes masquerades as a neat freak and demands washing all the dishes before sitting down to write, or vacuuming the entire house, or repainting the garage ... essentially anything other than writing.
If you’re a writer who’s had that unfinished draft in your desk for years (or decades), you can be sure that The Slacker has taken over the apartment. The Slacker’s the eternal procrastinator who will make sure the writing never gets done. Often, The Slacker’s helping The Writer procrastinate because it fears The Writer will produce something The Inner Critic will judge poorly. This is why the three housemates are awful together. It’s also the reason that The Slacker needs to be kicked out of the apartment permanently. After all, none of what they’ve done has produced a single dollar toward paying the rent.
While it’s to your benefit to evict The Slacker, they can still be a great friend. Good writing comes from being able to observe the world, and The Slacker’s invitation to go to dinner, meet friends, or go for a hike, will bring you into contact with the very details of your next story. Allow yourself a monthly coffee date with The Slacker and take a one-day break from writing. During that time, The Slacker will help you get the needed distance from your recently finished draft before you return home to begin your revisions.
Do the three housemates ever get together harmoniously? Absolutely! Once the final draft of the memoir/novel/poetry collection is finished, they can all go out to celebrate together. The Inner Critic/Editor will be celebrated for all their hard work (they’ll grumble but accept the praise), The Slacker will suggest everyone goes dancing, and both will cheer The Writer, letting them know that they can’t wait to see what The Writer creates next.