“Art is a jealous mistress.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Somewhere along the way during our writing life, most of us have encountered others who expressed certain opinions about our writing. Unfortunately these expressions make their way into our psyche causing us to become our own worst critics.
Here’s an exercise geared to turn all of those critics loose. You can do this exercise on your own whenever you feel those censors making their way into your work.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Close your eyes and calm your breath. When you find yourself breathing deeply and your mind calm, set your intention for this exercise. Use this process for all of the exercises in this seminar.
- Imagine yourself getting on the school bus for the first day of school. You get off the bus and behind you comes anyone who has ever said anything to you about your writing: your mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, neighbor, Sunday school teacher. Listen to the things they say to you. Write down a few of those comments.
- You are now seated at your desk in the classroom. Look around the room. What is written on the blackboard? Who is your teacher? What are the other students doing? Your teacher instructs you to take out a piece of paper and gives an assignment. What thoughts are you experiencing? Write down whatever comes to mind.
- After you have described the classroom experience, take a moment to go back and respond to your earlier critics. You have the last word in this exercise so take full advantage of it! Get rid of those critics and turn them into admirers.
When I began pulling together this exercise from various sources on this topic for one of my writing workshops, I thought I had no negative censors regarding my writing, but I’d heard enough stories from others to know that it could be a valuable exercise.
I went through the process of setting intention and then the imagining of the bus and classroom, finally coming back to the answering of my critics. Here is what happened.
As I hopped off that bus, quite a few people came following from behind me. A teacher said, “Your handwriting stinks.” My first editor at a weekly newspaper held my first novel in his hands and said, “Who published this book? They must publish anyone.” A very good friend who was in a writing group with me pronounced after reading my second novel, “I like your articles much better than your fiction.” When I first began writing travel pieces for the local newspaper, an acquaintance said, “I would read your pieces, but you use too many big words.”
When I arrived in the classroom, I was transported back to Mrs. Marsh’s fifth grade class. We had connected square desks. She asked us to write a story in our lined penmanship books on the solar system. I received a poor grade because my handwriting did not meet the set standards we were to follow. I was further humiliated when she pointed out to the class that I had determined that the sun revolved around the earth.
To this day, I am fearful of making a mistake in whatever I write. When I do make those errors, I pronounce myself a failure. And I am still amazed forty-five years later whenever anyone praises my handwriting! It probably spurred me to become a superb typist.
However, as I contemplate this one scenario, I realize this one moment out of thousands in my life, made me a careful writer and a fast typist.
I answer my critics on the bus in the following manner:
To my teacher: My handwriting is uniquely my own.
To my first editor: How many books have you published?
To my friend in the writing group: Then just read my articles, but I’m going to continue writing fiction because it pleases me.
To the acquaintance: Get a dictionary and use my articles to educate yourself.
I found this process to be liberating and a confidence builder. I hadn’t realized how much those comments bothered me, but by going through this exercise I’ve released them and put them in their proper perspective. One of the participants in a workshop found that she only remembers being praised for her writing and always being told, “You need to write a book.” She discovered those words were just as debilitating to her as negative words because she hadn’t even begun to write the book everyone else thought she should write. She still hasn’t written the book, but she doesn’t feel guilty about it anymore. Give it a try and see if it works for you.