While I Was Out: Say Hello to Your Critic

Note: I grew up in the printing plant my father owned, and he had a whole stack of pads titled While You Were Out, with check boxes and lines to fill in about things that happened in his absence. I am going to be out for a few days at a wedding, so I thought I'd fun some oldies but goodies.  Here's the first, from back in 2010:

Since I seem to have been writing a lot lately about fear, and how to keep it at bay while you write, I thought it might be time for a little practical exercise.  This is one I present in my Writing Abundance workshop.  I did it for the first time years ago and have found the results of it--a way to deal with my critic--incredibly useful.Holidays 085

One of the problems that I often hear about is people being sidelined by perfectionism.  They get paralyzed because they are afraid they won’t do something right.  What this problem really is about is listening to your own inner critic, who constantly tells you that you are not good enough.  It is one thing to tell your critic to shut up, but it doesn’t really work.  Instead—meet your critic head on and disarm him.  Here’s how, by giving him and image and a name.  I met mine years ago.  His name is Patrick and he looks like a Will Ferrell in Elf, only small and not nearly so goofy and friendly.  Instead, Patrick is a bit of a prig.   Let’s go ahead and have you meet your critics and then I’ll tell you a trick to deal with her or him.

Meet Your Critic

1. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
2. Think about how you feel when you are being critical of your writing.  
3.  See if any images come up—color, energy, sound, smell?
4. Hold with whatever you are getting and let it come into form.  It might be an animal, a human-type creature, or something totally abstract
5. Now open your eyes and write.  More details will emerge as you do.   Write a description of what you saw and then see if you can give it a name.  Even a purple circle with the name Stan works.

Here’s the deal: after you have identified your critic, you can talk to him.  I made a pact with Patrick years ago: he lies quiet while I write rough drafts, write in my journal, and do free writing.  In return, as soon as I begin editing and rewriting, Patrick is up and at ‘em, ready to help me out.  Because that is where Patrick excels—at being critical.  Sometimes I forget about Patrick and he gets cranky, very cranky.  But then he jumps up and down to get my attention, generally when I am first starting on a project.  Then I remind him of our deal.  And then he's content to go hang out wherever it is he hangs out until I call him forth. 

So give it a try.  And report back if you feel so inclined.  I'd love to hear what shape your own critic takes.

What Your Inner Critic Wants You to Know

Gnome_tedsblog_creepy_584432_hI wrote a guest post for Jessica Baverstock at Creativity's Workshop  on the writer's Inner GPS, our internal guidance system that is never wrong and can help us greatly with our writing.  (You can go read it now, I'll wait.)

And because of that, I started thinking a lot about the Inner Critic, which is the antithesis of the Inner GPS.  And because I was thinking about the Inner Critic, mine (a gnome-like imp named Patrick who is dressed all in green), popped up with a few things to say.  Inner Critics are vocal that way.

Here is what Patrick had to say about what your inner critic wants you to know:

1.  We love to make a lot of noise.  We can't help it, making noise is our nature.  And most often you'd probably think of it as discordant noise.  That's because we're the aggregation of years of the negative messages you've received--the teacher who made red marks all over your paper, your cranky grandma, your alcoholic father who raged at you, your bitter aunt. 

2.  We also like to lie.  We tell you that what you're writing is a stinky, steaming pile of crap when really its a deep lyrical essay.  We say that your house is a mess and your family hates you for it when really they are so, so happy that you are at your desk writing.  We tell you that you are stupid, fat, ugly, no good down to your very soul, when really you are a beautiful, spirited child of the universe.

3.  We can be tamed.  It takes consistent effort, but we can be trained to be quiet.  We don't like it (see #1), but it's the truth.  We can be tamed with this process: acknowledge the negative thought we offer, release it, and replace it with a positive thought.  The thing we actually love about this process is that you really have to do it over and over again and many of you get bored and quit. And then we can run wild and free again.

4.  We accept negotiations.  Maybe you can give us something to do while you're busy writing the first draft and then call us in for the editing rounds?  Perhaps you can send us off to practice yelling and screaming elsewhere until you're ready to do a grammar and spell check?  Think about what how we could help you and then pitch us a deal.  We might just agree.

5.  We are not the boss of you.  We like to make you think we are.  It's so very easy to convince you that such is the case.  A snide comment here, a negative remark there, and before you know it, you've slunk away from your desk before you've even written word one.  The other Inner Critics will probably hate me for this, but here's a little tip: when all else fails, we respond well to war being waged on us.   Stop slinking away, turn and face us and yell, "Shut the f@#$ up, you measly, slimy son of an old shoe!"  And then we'll do exactly that.

What does your Inner Critic want you to know?

Photo by TedsBlog.

Fear of Writing

Edvardmunch-thescream-1163553-lWhen I was invited to speak to the Living Writer's Collective in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, my topic was the Fear of Writing.   The subject was enthusiastically received, with several writers sheepishly admitting to me that they suffered from it (and Lord knows I've dealt with it off and on throughout my career), so I thought I'd adapt part of my talk here.

I've identified two broad arenas that your fears of writing might fall within:


This is when you fear sitting down and putting words on the page.  You might not think that you actually have this fear, because fear is a sneaky beast that masquerades as all kinds of other things.  Like suddenly needing, desperately needing, to do laundry.  Or mop the kitchen floor.  Or go grocery shopping.  Or do just about anything but get to the page in the time you've allotted to write.

The fear of the writing process can also pop up once you've actually gotten to the computer.  There you sit, facing that wonderful blank screen.  When you get tired of looking at the screen, you gaze out the window.  And then maybe you go grab yourself a cup of coffee and stare out the kitchen window for awhile.  I've got news for you--all this staring is not writing.

Or, has this ever happened to you?  You are writing along, lost in the process and suddenly your fingers come to a halt.  You've written something that's threatening to the old ego.  And now you're terrified.  All was fine one minute and then next, well, it's not.


Product fears gather around putting your work out in the world.  What if you're rejected?  What if people don't like your book when it's published?  What if you get a bad book review or your mother reads it and is shocked?  What if you wrote a thriller about a murdered and people think you have first-hand experience with crime?  The what ifs go on and on and on, and many of them are as silly as the last one I listed.  But here's the deal: fears are often silly.  But they take on enormous power despite this.

So what's a person to do?


Here's the bad news: the only way out is through.  Well, it may not be the only way out, but it's the best way out.  Yup, to get over your fear of writing, you must write.  And then put it out in the world, even when you don't want to.  In so many ways this is counter-intuitive and probably not at all what you want to hear.  Wouldn't it be just so much easier if there were an actual program you could take that conquered your fear of writing without you having to do any writing?  Well, that program is, you guessed it, writing.

Here are a couple ways to approach it that might help:

--Try freewriting.  This old favorite really does work.  If you do it correctly, it bypasses the conscious mind and taps you into something deeper, beyond fear.  The way to do it is this: pick a prompt (any prompt, it doesn't matter), set a timer for 20 minutes, and then write.  Write without stopping, even if you are writing the same word over and over again.  Keep the flow going--it is this that subverts the fear.  And don't worry about staying on topic, you probably won't.  When you're done, underline or highlight anything that you might find useful and use this as a starting point for another writing session.

--Chunk it down.  Many of us writers are big-picture people.  We look at a project and see the whole thing all at once.  This has many advantages, but a big disadvantage is that it can be overwhelming.   Remind yourself that you only need to look at your project in little bits.  Make a loose outline and take one line of it at a time and write to that.  Then take the next line, and then the next, until you have a rough draft for each item on the list.

--Take time for process time.  In a book called Around the Writer's Block, author Roseanne Barr talks about how important process time is to writers.  By this she means things like journaling, or morning pages.  It can be a conundrum: take precious writing time to journal or get right to the project at hand?  But studies have shown that taking time for process writing helps you beat writing resistance on a consistent basis.

--Approach it playfully.  Try some fun writing exercises every once in awhile.  Open a dictionary at random and fun your finger down the page.  Use the word you land on as a prompt.  Combine it with anothe word and make the start of a sentence and then use that.  Cut up old manuscripts into long strips, one line to a strip and put them in a box. Choose one and use as a prompt.

--Write something different.  I know I get stuck on thinking that I must work on my novel and only my novel.  But last fall at a workshop I tried my hand at Flash Fiction and loved it.  Writing that could be a quick warm-up to displace your fears.  So could writing Haiku.

--Remember to write and let everything else fall into place.  Because it will.  Your job is to put words on the page.  This is the best thing to remember when you feel that fear of putting your work out in the world, or of submitting it to editors or agents.  Your job is to write.  It's not to worry about what people are going to think of the final product.  At the heart of it all, you just need to write.

What about you? How do you banish your fear of writing?  Leave a comment!

**Today is the last day to get $50 off tuition for my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  Learn more here.

Photo of Munch's The Scream by Oddsock.

It's One Powerful Word For the New Year

For the last two years, I've been in the habit of choosing three words to guide my next year.  (You can read the posts explaining my word choices for 2012 here, a check-in post here, and the words for 2011 here. For another blogger's take on the process, check out Sandra's post at Always Well Within.) 

But this year I'm doing something a bit different--choosing one word.  That's because this one word has been pulling at me for a month, insisting it is the word, and the one and only word that will mark my 2013.  In general, I am a "more is better" kind of person, and such is the case with choosing words for the year--why choose one when choosing three is so much better?

My word won't let me do that this year.  And so, with no further introduction, here is that pesky word that won't let go of me:


I want to be:

Fearless on the page.

Fearless in my personal life.

Fearless in my career.

A Course in Miracles says that you've got two choices: love or fear.  So, by definition, this year is going to be about offering a whole lot of love.  But to me, the opposite of fearless goes even deeper than love, if that is possible.

To me, the opposite of fear is faith.

Faith in my ability to splash words on the page.  Faith that this is the bottom line of what I need to do in the world.

Faith that good will triumph over evil.  That somehow, someway, we will transmute horrendous events like the Newtown Sandy Hook massacre.

Faith that love really does trump fear.

I'm not at all sure I know how to be fearless, and I'm guessing that's why the voice within was so insistent that I choose this word for 2013.  Because lately it seems that little things have made me anxious.  That fussing over my writing is easier than just letting the words flow.  That obsessing over the possibility that something bad might happen is more common than enjoying the moment.

And, somehow, that wise voice within knows that striving for a practice of fearlessness is the antidote to all of the above.  I'm not about to go jump out of an airplane or climb Mt. Everest.   The kind of fearlessness that most interests me is the kind where I meet the demons within.  The ones who say the words I put on the page are silly.  That nobody will think my novel is funny.  The ones that remind me how many other talented writers there are in the world.

Yeah, those.  Responding to them fearlessly is my number one task this year.

So that's my word for the year.  Are you choosing a word or words for 2013?  Please share it or any thoughts you might have about this in the comments.

***By the way, if putting words on the page is a goal for you in 2013, you might consider giving yourself the gift of coaching.  My current clients are accomplishing great things.  Wouldn't you like to join them?  Check out my coaching page here.  It's a wonderful present for yourself.

Fear and Focus

Photoxpress_1687829We don't always think of fear and focus at the same time, but there's very good reason to pair them.

Focus.  It's what we all desire, what gets the writing done.  Because the words don't go on the page without it.

Fear.  It's often what keeps us from focusing.

The kinds of fears we writers and creative types deal with are the insidious ones.  They may very well be so insidious that we don't even recognize them as fears.  Instead, fears can masquerade as a lack of focus. Have you ever told yourself any of the following when it came time to write?

--I don't need to work on the book today

--The kitchen floor needs washing.  I better do it now, instead of writing.

--I need to check my email.

--Writing is too hard, I'll look at Facebook instead

Perhaps some of the following fears are hiding behind this sudden desire to do something, anything, other than write:

--Not knowing what to write

--Not knowing how to write

--Going deep

--Not being good enough

--Being too good

--Putting yourself and your words out in the world.

Interestingly, dealing with issues of focus takes immediate care of many, if not all, of these fears.  Why? Because choosing to focus is choosing to be in the moment.  Choosing fear is opting to be mired in the past or worry about the future.  You can't do either when you firmly in the present.

So herewith, some strategies for both fear and focus.

1.  Remember that you are enough and have enough for what you need in this present moment.  You have all the tools you need to write or create.

2.  Have a curiosity about life instead of assuming an air of knowing everything.  Be present to the amazement of life.

3.  Move before you feel ready.  Send that story out even though you know it's not perfect, commit to writing a novel even though you don't know how.  Such leaps keep our creative selves alive and are one antidote to fear.

4. Stand for yourself.  Take responsibility for yourself and your work.  You committed to writing, now do it.  For some weird reason this always helps me with my fears.

5.  Meditate.  Everyone recommends it for a reason.  It really does help.

7.  Develop a morning ritual and/or spiritual practice that grounds and centers you.

8.  Do ONE thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is death to focus.  My tried and true trick is to set a timer for 30 minutes and only write during that time period.

9.  Work hard, play hard.  Focus and concentrate.  Then take a break and have some fun! 

10.  Don't forget physical exercise.  Move your body in some way, whether you like to take walks, do yoga or Qi Gong, swim or ride bikes.  Sometimes we just need to wear the old brain out to get rid of our fears!

Do you have strategies to accomplish focus and banish fear?  Please share.

 Photo from Photoexpress.

Just a Little Thing Called Fear

A few years ago, I helped my friend Suzanne sell her photographs at art fairs.  The photos were gorgeous shots of flowers, spectacular close-ups. Water_waterfalls_fall_270904_l

People would walk by and say, "I don't need to buy one of those, I could take a photo like that."

Um, really?  You could get the settings on the camera right so that all the detail popped out, and you also had the eye that could make the creative angle of the shot pop out?  Really, you could?

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I were flipping through the TV channels on a Friday night when we landed on the coverage of Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk over Niagara Falls.  Talk about inspiring.  But news reports featured people's doubts because ABC made him wear a harness:

"Onlooker Gary Neal was disappointed.

'I reckon I could do it myself with a safety harness,' he laughed. 'That takes the excitement away for me.'"

Really?  You could stroll on over that high wire, with spray from the Falls blinding you and wind whipping you?  Without any training?

Both of these are examples of naysaying.  And naysaying is an example of fear. 

Naysaying is what we sometimes do instead of creativity.  We say, "yeah, but" in order to take down the person who has actually gone out in the world and done something creative, the person who walks the highwire or takes gorgeous photographs. We want to take them down to make them more like us, we who are not actively being creative and daring.

I've found myself doing it with other writers: 

"Yeah, but, even though the book is a bestseller, it's poorly written."  (Fifty Shades of Gray, anybody?) The fact remains that the book has struck a huge chord and its an enormous accomplishment.

We do it in order to somehow diminish the other person's accomplishment.  And what it really does is diminish ourselves.

Fear is like that.  It's a sneaky bastard, and it'll overwhelm you in a variety of guises.  One way it acts is to make you inauthentic, to make you scared of being yourself. Because diminishing yourself and your authentic creativity is the ultimate naysaying act.

Which is why I am THRILLED to announce a class that I'm offering with Karen Caterson, better known as Square-Peg Karen, on Authenticity + Creativity.  It's an affordable one-session class coming up on July 10th and we'll be getting to the heart of this topic.

I won't recap all the details here, when there is a perfectly lovely page that explains it all that you can click over to right here.  We'd love to have you join us!

What about you?  Have you ever naysayed before?  Or do you diminish your creativity in other sneaky ways?

Photo by agentoseis.

Round Two: The Things That Scare You

While I'm in Orlando, at the Suzanne Evans 10K business intensive, I'm posting old posts.  This is one of my all time favorites.

Jan. 22, 2010

I'm afraid of everything.Silhouette_woman_body_229243_l

At least that is how it seems some days.  Most days. 

Most people, looking at me, assume that I'm brimming with self confidence.  I travel alone, I speak and present workshops, I talk to strangers wherever I go. And maybe, if self confidence means constantly pushing at barriers, I am overflowing with it.  Because, the fact is, most of the time I'm either terrified or feel like an idiot because I don't know what I'm doing.  The only difference between me and others is that I'm out there doing it.  

Because to not to do it is to let fear win.

Recently, I did something I've always especially feared.  This is going to sound really silly to most people, but I've always been afraid to eat out alone, especially at a nice restaurant.  On Monday, my dinner plans got canceled.  No problem, I thought, I'll have a quiet evening home alone.  Except while I was out doing errands the thought hit me like a brilliant epiphany that I should go eat at the bar at J. Alexander's.  It is a nice big bar, with attentive bartenders and singletons eat dinner there all the time.  I know, because I've been there with a friend.

I argued.  The thought persisted.  I texted one friend, called another.  Perhaps they wanted to join me?  One was unavailable, one was sick.

I argued more.  Wouldn't it be best just to stay home and eat leftovers?

The thought grew louder: do the things that scare you.

And so I did.

I loaded up my armor of  journal and book and screwed up my courage and off I went.  And I had a fabulous time.  Struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me and never even had to pull out my armor.  Drank one glass of wine too many and ate a delicious burger and fries.

The next day, even though I was just the wee-est bit hungover, I felt fabulous.  Why?  Because I had felt a deep thrill of exhilaration while I was at the bar--I was successfully facing one of my deepest fears!--and afterward, an even deeper sense of satisfaction for having done it.

But here's the deal.  Fear is a sneaky demon and it shifts and shakes and siphons off our energy in unexpected ways.  Facing down one fear doesn't mean all the rest of your fears are now dealt with.  Not by a long shot.   You have to keep facing them, one by one, and then when you think you've gotten through the whole entire list some new ones will appear.  And fear can masquerade as boredom, or laziness, or telling yourself it just wasn't meant to be.  What I fear is not the same thing that you fear.  What you fear today may morph into something else tomorrow.

And so, my challenge to you is the same as my challenge to myself: do the things that scare you.  The only way out is through.  The only way to conquer fear is to walk through it, one step at a time.

What does this have to do with writing?  You know exactly why talking about fear relates to writing.  You know exactly.

But I Can't Be Happy

Does this ever happen to you? Flower_flowers_stuffed_250188_l

Suddenly and wonderfully, for no known reason, you feel a flash of happiness, or a rush of sudden joy.  Ah, glory.  You stop to revel in it.  And then...

Up pops that voice.

The one that whispers:

 Yes, but...

Yes, but, remember?  I can't be happy!

Why? I can't be happy because:

  • I still haven't lost the extra weight I'm carrying
  • I'm still not published
  • I'm not making enough money
  • I don't have a perfect love relationship
  • I don't have children and I really, really want some
  • I don't have my ideal job

All of which translates to:

  • I'm not thin enough
  • I'm not rich enough
  • I'm not published enough
  • I don't have enough
  • I'm not enough

To which I say: Enough, already!  You are enough, you have enough, you do enough.  I know, I know.  That's scant comfort when your buoyant joy is brought down to earth by that insistent voice.  So what's the antidote?

So glad you asked.  Here are my best strategies:

Recognize that its your ego talking.  Joy and happiness come from connection, from the divine, from being at one with the wonderful world.  The ego comes from a lifetime of misperceptions, imagined and real hurts, and crazy ideas that get lodged in our brain.  Just remembering this and recognizing that it is the ego squelching your joy is the first step.

Tell it to shut the f*%# up.   Geneen Roth talks about screaming back at the ego in her work.  Tell it to shut up, tell it that its not welcome, tell it that it is interrupting.   You may be a kinder, gentler soul than I, and want to ask it nicely to be quiet.  Do whatever works.

Know that all you really need (and have) is the present moment.  In every moment, you can choose love or you can choose fear.  It is pretty obvious that choosing to listen to the ego is choosing fear whereas choosing love is letting joy overtake you.  This takes practice, but gets easier.

That's all I've got for you at the moment.  Silencing the ego is a lifelong practice.  But it is a worthwhile one, becasue in the end we are here to love and experience joy. Anybody else have any suggestions?

Photo by hagit.


I hate earthquakes.

Like hate hate them.

They terrify me.  And yes, I've been in a few.  Not big ones, because we generally don't get big earthquakes here, even though the experts say that the Northwest is due for a whopper like the one that hit Japan. Land-earthquake-earth-58633-l

And so I, like so many others, have been on edge since the events of last week. 

It didn't help that there were tsunami warnings on my beloved Oregon coast.  Or that the nuclear power plants in Japan were in danger of meltdown.  Or that some yeehaw "scientist" predicted that a huge earthquake might hit the West Coast.  Or that we started bombing the hell out of Libya.

All of these things, and earthquakes in the lives of so many friends, have lodged themselves inside of me and wrapped themselves into a ridiculously big ball of fear.

It culminated the other night.  We went out to Happy Hour with friends and, while I only consumed two glasses of wine, it didn't occur to me until later that the pours that night were huge.  Like nearly double size.  I think.  Don't really remember. But what I do remember is that an excess of wine is not good for my sleeping habits.

And that night I awoke in the middle of the night and I could not get back to sleep.  This is unusual for me.  While I often wake in the middle of the night, I generally go back to sleep easily and quickly.  Not Friday night.  Of course, the moon was nearly full and the sky bright.  And that didn't help either.  Because it just made me think more about the Super Moon which was supposedly going to trigger the above-mentioned earthquake.

And then, in the way that fear has, thinking about the earthquake made me think about other problems in my personal life.  (Which, let me just note, pale in comparison to what the people of Japan face.  In the light of day, I know that.  In the dark of night, fear makes me forget it.)  I tossed and turned, unable to switch my brain off and get back to sleep.

Finally, in desperation, I started counting my blessings.  You know, like that old song, the lyrics of which go something along the lines of "Just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings."  Nowadays we call our blessings gratitude, and the word is overused and the act often made fun of, probably because Oprah promotes it and people make fun of everything she does.

But I have to admit that it helped.  I lay there and thought of all the things that I feel grateful for, from the fat cats that were hogging the bottom of the bed to my writing career.  And pretty soon I fell asleep. 

So why do I mention all this on a blog devoted to writing?  Because I imagine quite a few of us are feeling fearful these days.  Or if not fearful, then on edge.  Anxious.  Nervous for no reason.  And none of these feelings, not a single one, are compatible with writing.  I think that counting your blessings, or making a gratitude list, works because it helps us to remember.  When we're fearful, anxious and on edge, we don't remember how lucky we are.  We don't remember our true selves.  And most of all, we don't remember that we can write ourselves back to ourselves.  All we have to do is pick up the pen.  Which is what I did the next morning, as I do every morning. 

And then I felt better.

What do you do when you get anxious or fearful?  Please feel free to share in the comments.  Because what works for you might well be useful for someone else.  Thanks.

And remember, if things get too out of whack for you, contact me.  I can help with a Get Your Writing in Gear session, or good old fashioned coaching. 

***And please, remember to come back to this site on Friday because I have an amazing interview that will inspire the hell out of you lined up.  


Photo by runrunrun from Everystockphoto.