Farzana Doctor is the award-winning author of three novels: Stealing Nasreen, Six Metres of Pavement and All Inclusive. She has just finished a fourth called Four Wives. Her claim to fame was that she was Voted Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Best of Toronto Readers’ Choice Poll, beating Margaret Atwood. She co-founded the Brockton Writers Series and has been its curator and co-host for the last eight years. Click here to learn more.
In her blog that originally appeared in Write, Farzana shares her experiences in addressing her inner critic. I’ve tried it, and it’s working!
As I write this article, I’m feeling blocked. I make another cup of tea, vacuum, then check Facebook. I return to my desk, convinced that you, my audience, will think this is a piece of crap.
That’s my inner critic talking. The inner critic insists onperfection. It thinks it’s helping us by shielding us from vulnerability. But mostly it prevents us from getting things done. A lot of people will tell you: “Don’t listen to it! Just ignore it!” But that’s the wrong approach. It takes more energy to ignore, resist and suppress difficult emotions than it does to recognize and deal with them. When we can acknowledge and normalize feelings, it helps them flow.
So here’s a quick and effective exercise to mindfully face the inner critic:
Using pen and paper, draw your inner critic. Don’t over-think this; do it within thirty seconds. It could look like something human or animal, really anything.
Draw a speech or thought bubble. Fill it with the inner critic’s worst fears and criticisms about your work. Mine tends to say catastrophic things like:
“You’ll never write another good novel. You’re all dried up!”
“No one cares about books about people of colour!”
“No one, I repeat, no one, will show up to your launch!”
We’re tempted, at this point, to counter the inner critic’s fears with rationality. Sometimes that works. But what usually ends up happening is that the fear just rebounds. It’s been batted away instead of truly acknowledged. So what works better?
1. The “Agree With It” strategy (adapted from social worker Karen Day).
Here’s how it works:
Agree with the inner critic’s catastrophic statement, and then add on a “carrying on” statement:
“Yes, it may be true that I will never write another good novel AND I will sit at my desk for another twenty minutes.”
“Yes, it may be true that no one cares about people of colour characters, AND I will finish this scene.”
“Yes, it may be true not a single soul will come to my launch, AND I will be brave and handle it.”
It’s important to use the word “AND” before the “carrying on” sentiment, rather than “BUT.” We are agreeing with the inner critic, not challenging it.
2. Another mindfulness approach is the “Stay With It” strategy.
Psychologist Tara Brach writes that “the natural life span of an emotion — the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body — is only a minute and a half.” In other words, if we stay with a feeling for just ninety seconds — not fixing, analyzing, or otherwise interfering with the emotion — it will move rather than continue to block our writing.
There are many ways to do this. Here’s my favourite:
Imagine opening your front door and saying “hello” to the fear (perhaps imagining the fear embodied as your inner critic). Welcome it in your home and ask it to sit with you. You might say, “I see you here, fear. I am with you, fear. We’re just going to sit together, breathing together for a minute or so.”
This process won’t make the fear disappear (that’s not the goal), but will make it less reactive. You’ll no longer need to resist it or suppress it by making another cup of tea, vacuuming the house, or checking Facebook.
By now you’re probably thinking “Yep, she was right, that article was a big waste of my time!” But guess what? I finished it anyway!
Stay tuned for features on our upcoming writers Karen Lee, Kaleigh Trace, Tyler Pennock, Ralph Kolewe, and guest speaker Maya Bedward. See you at our next event on May 9, 2018, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!