Silencing the Inner Critic

I have believed for a long time that writers (and other artists) have a more active and louder inner critic than the rest of the world. I see it every day with my clients and listen to the war waging in my own mind all the time.

There are times that I sit down to my computer in my comfortable and beautifully decorated office with the sole intention of producing at least 6 pages of writing and instead squirm in my seat as I stare at that blinking cursor on the page as if it mocks me. The stream of mental abuse can be anything from “Who do you think you are?” to “What a waste of time, this is never going to sell, and you will always be a starving artist.” to “If you were really meant to be an author, it would be a lot easier than this.” Have you ever heard this in your mind?

And yet, if I go for walk around my neighborhood, take a shower, go hiking in the mountains, and sometimes right before I drift off to sleep the string of words comes to me uninhibited, fully formed in beautiful prose.

The inner critic should never write your book.

As a certified professional co-active coach, I learned many skills to circumvent what they call the “saboteur” and the “gremlin”. But that did not explain why, from my experience, most writers had a much louder saboteur. I also read books like The War of Art where Steven Pressfield calls this part of ourselves “resistance” and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert who calls it “fear” and I have poked around in neuroscience where they’ve mapped this part of our mind to live in our amygdala. Still, no clear explanation for why we creatives suffer from such a loud inner critic. So, I decided to work the problem backward.

What does work?

What I have heard from many writers is that we get into a certain zone or flow when we write, so much so that often we don’t even remember the writing process. I’ve had people tell me that they feel like they channeled their books, that they were merely the instrument through which their muse wrote the story. As wacky as this can sound, I can attest to my best writing coming from being in that seemingly unconscious flow.

Conversely, I truly believe that the flow and the zone are actually when we are our most conscious and most connected to our deeper self, our inner wisdom, our soul if you will. It is when the mind chatter is silenced and the only words that remain in our minds are the words we are writing. This state is the opposite state to the inner critic and is the only state where true creativity is ever conceived.

Writing comes from the deeper self, not the mind. Yes, you may use words and concepts that you have learned with your mind and are reorganizing into new sentences with your mind, but the engine of what is driving the creativity is your consciousness. Your inner critic and your consciousnesses are yin and yang, rivals for your attention, and I believe that we artists have such loud inner critics because we also have awesomely powerful inner creatives.

Why I escape to the mountains

I am more creative in the mountains because I am more present there. I am removed enough from my everyday life that I can turn off the worried thoughts (and often don’t have cell service which helps!) and instead focus on the view around me and where on the path my foot will fall. The more dangerous the ascent on a mountain trail the more focused I have to be on the present moment as to not misstep and sprain an ankle on loose rocks. Because I am more conscious and in the present moment, the writing comes effortlessly with ease and grace.

What to do if you don’t have a mountain?

There are two options, and I suggest you do both! You can join me on a writing retreat in Kananaskis, Alberta and write in the magical playground of the Rocky Mountains, or you can refine your talent to be more present and exercise your ability to enter into your creative flow faster, and whenever you want. I highly recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle to hone this skill.

Of course, none of this negates the true secret to writing… actually sitting down and doing the work. For that, I leave you with wise words:

“This is the other secret that real artists know, and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

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