Most people who sit down to write must first contend with their Inner Critic: that super helpful part of our brains tasked with reminding us how much we suck. But there’s another voice in there that gets in the way of creativity, and sometimes it can harm our writing lives even more than the much-maligned Inner Critic.
We all have to answer to our Executive: the administrative part of our psyches that weighs all the pros and cons and decides what we actually, you know, do. Often, the Executive won’t let us proceed with any task unless we can provide a sound, well-reasoned justification for it. Those nagging questions emanating from the Executive (which tend to sound a lot like the ones worried family members ask) can fill up our heads and get in the way of our writing.
But we can be prepared for the internal interrogation, and we can shift our minds toward different questions that actually help us get down to business.
1. Instead of “What will my family and friends think?” ask “What would my younger self think?”
Look, I love my family and friends, but I would never buy the same couch as my great aunt, nor do I share a favorite pizza topping with my college roommate. The people who love you don’t necessarily share your taste, and therefore they might not like what you create.
One of the greatest motivators for creativity that I’ve ever heard is to make the art that you wish you’d encountered yourself at some point along your journey. Instead of worrying about what your rebellious cousin or devout father might think, turn your focus to your own experiences as a reader. Trust that creating something for the Audience Of You will ultimately resonate with others. They just might not share your last name.
2. Instead of “Will this ever make me money?” ask “What motivated me to become a writer?”
I wrote my very first book when I was in second grade. I carefully added text, illustrated each blank page, and decorated the card-stock covers, complete with a synopsis and bio on the back flap. At no point in this process did I wonder if “Echo Echo” by Erin Judge packed enough punch to turn a profit. Most of us started writing long before we thought about money. And, even if we depend on writing for part or all of our income, we can still reach for the deeper motivations that drew us to this calling anytime we’re paralyzed by financial anxieties.
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Sure, I write for money, but I also write for fun, for catharsis, for self-expression, for therapy. I write because putting words together in ways that prompt the synaptic combinations that convey the tricky idea I’m kicking around is like a drug. Whenever your Executive raises concerns about commercial success or marketability, remind the Boss that you write, that you’ve always written, for something much more immediate and personal than cash.
3. Instead of “Will this win me any awards?” ask “How will this benefit the reader?”
Whether you’re writing a novel with an underrepresented protagonist or a short article on strategies for tackling student loans, connecting with the altruistic potential of your writing is far healthier than fantasizing about acclaim. As writers, we’re ultimately creating connections: within ourselves, within others, and among people. Part of this is trusting that your expression will be of value to others. Personally, I trust that my words will resonate with others when what I create rings true to me.
But the last thing you should be worried about is what Big Deal Entity X might think, whether it’s the publishing world or the Pulitzer committee or the elusive coven that doles out MacArthur Genius Grants. That’s a great way to drive yourself crazy, or, worse, to create something derivative or hollow.
The Inner Critic can be dismissed, argued with, or even drafted as a co-conspirator. But the Executive must be reassured. Fortunately, with mindfulness, and some practice, you can learn to address any nagging questions your Inner Boss throws at you. And at the end of the day, don’t forget to appreciate this effective, amazing part of yourself. Remember, she’s the one who makes the coffee.
Erin Judge is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. Her new book – Vow of Celibacy – which Kirkus called “A smart, funny, and fast-paced book about sex, love, body image, and friendship” – was released today. Find her on twitter at @erinjudge