Name It

When your trash-talking inner critic tries to convince you not to write (or for that matter, not to do anything that feels too risky), it can be useful to take notes on its argument. It will basically be trying to convince you to avoid risking judgment, to avoid risking that people will think what you write is . . .

. . .what, exactly? What’s on that critic’s list? Write it down. Name it. Here’s an example from my own archives of self-doubt:

People will think what I have to say is:
new-age drivel,
obvious AND shallow
religious foolishness
too twisted to follow
or to care about,
not engaging,
Proustian, but only in a bad way,
unnecessarily complicated, because it’s
but also wrong:
it’s the kind of obvious that’s just drivel
like something a New York Times critic,
or even an intern in the mail room,
would recognize as trite sentiment
from an elbow-patch would-be-intellectual
part-time community college adjunct,
the poor cousin who comes to the party wearing
an outfit she’s saved up for that is completely
unfashionable, like patent Mary Janes and knee socks
and a handmade dress from a Simplicity pattern
she loved in junior high . . .
Okay, wait, now I’m starting to like this girl.
New York sophistication isn’t everything—
it isn’t even desirable, for God’s sake—
so fuck that!
And if the stuff I want to write about were so obvious,
people wouldn’t still be tangled up by it,
New Yorkers included.
I’m strapping up, with my Mary Janes.

See what I mean? Naming shit can be useful in helping you recognize shit.

Try it.

About Barbara Sullivan

Writer, editor, teacher, introvert, contrarian, union thug
This entry was posted in Creativity, self doubt, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Name It

  1. Patricia says:

    If my inner critic said all that I wouldn’t get out of bed!

  2. theotheri says:

    Great advice!

  3. odiousghost says:

    Thanks – that’s a really good exercise!!

    • I had a feeling it might come in handy for other people too (especially someone who has a tagline like “slowly but surely making no difference at all.” Your lovely and tender Monday Morning post, by the way, has stayed in my memory while most things fade immediately, even my own work. You can tell that to your inner critic. 🙂

  4. Julia says:

    Ain’t that the truth? And the best time to make that list is…. 3 a.m. when the darkdusters really get you in their teeth. Good to hear from you Barbara.

    • Darkdusters? Never heard that term before! Their imaginative name almost makes me want to get to know them. (Almost–the teeth are a deterrent!) 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by this outpost–ever since The New Job took over, I feel like I’ve been living in the academic arctic circle, hiking back to ordinary life only once or twice a year to pick up supplies and check the post office box. It’s always nice to find a note there from someone I admire, and miss.

  5. valinparis says:

    Ok, who the fuck is that person??? That list should be tossed and replaced with what others see and experience of you. Here’s yours Barb, what your inner critic and goddess guardian says about you:
    more real than real
    stubbornly real
    full disclosure
    more full disclosure
    honesty with full disclosure
    increasingly aware
    brilliant, again, because it takes heart, empathy and intelligence to be so connected with others
    insanely observant
    ready to leap tall buildings for others
    loving and more loving
    worth weight in gold
    best friend ever
    would give shirt, skirt and shoes, throw in iPad, for those she loves
    genius writer
    hot tamale
    full of grace
    eccentric in a good way

    Ok, I could go on, but I want you to cut this out and hang anywhere you can see it on a regular basis. All those in favor, say, “Ai!”

    • Well, I will certainly admit to having a talent for picking friends! And I did save a screenshot of this on my desktop, so I can re-read when desperate. 🙂
      Thanks so much for all the years of steadfast support you’ve given me, and for treating my inner critic with the same dismissive backhand you used on The Evil Ex. You always have had a better grip on reality than I have!

  6. Naming stuff. I think it is the only way to get undercurrents into the open, all that insidious negative self talk that needles away at us like grima Wormtongue.

    • Oh WOW–thank you for that delicious Tolkien reference, and the chance to watch it again! I wouldn’t have thought it possible to translate The Lord of the Rings into film, but Jackson did it so magnificently that I forgive him the liberties he took with the plot. The casting–including Grima–was a work of art in itself.

      And yes–poor Theoden provides the perfect visual for what Wormtongue aims to do, as Gandalf provides counterpoint: facing the Balrog can transform the grey in our lives to formidable white light.

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