Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Gag Your Inner Critic

Honestly YA is so very pleased to welcome Bonnie Staring, a 2013 Golden Heart® finalist.  She's talking about gagging the worst critic of all.  Yourself.  Take it away, Bonnie!

Thanks for having me!

This is so exciting, I mean, not only is it Angelina Jolie’s birthday, but I get to share something that helped me get more words on the page and live a happier existence.

I gagged my inner critic.

Now, gagging your inner critic isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s not like popping a zit, flipping a light switch or choosing which shoulder your tattoo should call home—this is a four-step process that takes a bit of work to accomplish. But it’s so worth it!

STEP 1: Hearing the voices
And no, this isn’t about sipping the crazy sauce. Your inner critic is that little voice (or voices, if you’re special) in your head that tries to turn any good situation into a bad one. It might even sound like someone you know.

The first step in gagging the sucker is to hear what your IC has to say. Here are some examples:

“Yes, you finished that manuscript, but it needs a lot of work.”
“Sure, you’re a finalist, but it’s not like you’re gonna win.”
Sometimes the Inner Critic adds a snicker for a demoralizing effect. Le sigh.

STEP 2: Acknowledge what’s being said
Sometimes it’s hard to realize what that voice is telling you when it’s being so darn annoying. Instead of reacting right away, take the time to think about what that creep has said and determine what it really means.

For the recently completed manuscript that the Inner Critic says needs a lot of work: Thank your IC for pointing out that you’re best to take some time away from it to gain a fresh perspective. That will help you make it even stronger in the revision process.

For the finalist who the Inner Critic says won’t win: Thank your IC for voicing your biggest fear and then plan a party to celebrate what you’ve already achieved. While you’re at it, prepare for the win so that you’re ready for it, just in case, and for when you’re in this type of situation again.

STEP 3: Volume countermeasures
Your IC will become testy with all this positivity flowing in your mind, so that voice might crank up the volume or the number of nasty things he or she has to say. To combat this, create a Happy File and a Positivity Mantra to help you through these times.

Your Happy File can live on your desktop or in the physical world. Simply put all those nice notes you’ve received from friends, family and perfect strangers that put a smile on your face into one place. You can also include photos and certificates of achievement to remind you of how awesome you are.

Your Positivity Mantra should be a simple sentence that you can repeat out loud or in your head (if paparazzi’s nearby) to drown out anything your IC has to say. Here are some examples:

“I have the power to transform my dreams into reality.”
“I can do this.”
“Today I will do my best.”

STEP 4: Gag them with great tunes
Now, you could go all ninja-like and tie a kimono around your IC’s mouth, or take the redneck route and use some duct tape, but the easiest way to deal with that annoying voice is to drown it out with really great tunes.

You know the songs I mean. The ones that bring a smile to your face at the first notes. The ones that make you hum along, no matter where you are. Create a “Gag the IC” playlist and ensure you have access to it whenever you’re about to do something challenging, like writing or revising that novel, or getting on the treadmill.

What about you? Do you have a neat way to gag your inner critic?

Bonnie Staring is a writer, coupon user and virtual cabana-boy wrangler. Find her online at http://bonniestaring.blogspot.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bonniestaring, and on Twitter @BonnieStaring


Melissa Landers said...

Great post, Bonnie! I've always struggled with "negative self talk," not just with writing but in all aspects of life. You're right in that the only way to overcome it is to shut it down and feed yourself some positive talk, even if you have to fake it at first.

Amy said...

Bonnie, you are fun and funny as always! I love your tips, and as Melissa said, they can apply to all areas of life. As for writing, I try to answer my inner critic with "I'm still learning. I don't have to be perfect." I think that will apply for the rest of my life, because I'm sure I'll never figure it all out perfectly, but I can always try to appreciate where I am right now. (Caveat: talk to me in a year if I still don't have an agent. Ole IC will probably be raging my then!)

Darcy said...

Delightful, funny, and spot-on post, Bonnie! I think your approach is brilliant! And I recall you once mentioning your "Happy File," which is such an excellent way to give yourself a boost when the going gets sucktastic!

As it happens, *I* have an unending roll of duct tape that I put on the mouths of what I refer to as my committee. And if that doesn't do the trick, I turn my playlist up SUPER loud, kick my virtual amp, and begin hammering on my air guitar while singing loud and off-key. My cats might be in a world of hurt, but at least I feel better ;)

And if ALL ELSE FAILS...I open a great book and get lost in someone else's words until I'm inspired again.

Kimberly said...

I love this! My inner critic has been loud and obnoxious lately. I actually need Gorilla tape instead of duct tape--the really heavy duty stuff.
A friend of mine told me about "the secret," where the universe gives you exactly what you want as long as you put out those positive vibes and TELL it what you want. I've been trying, but it's so hard. I'm not sure the universe listens. Especially to my inner critic. LOL.
Thanks for this encouraging and inspiring post, Bonnie. I love, love, LOVE your positive attitude.
How do I get rid of my inner critic? I call Pintip, and she usually yells at my IC for awhile. :-)

Bonnie Staring said...

Melissa: Yes! Faking it until it becomes a habit is always a great way to deal with almost everything. Thanks for stopping by!

Amy: I love what you tell your IC! (And I love your post on the Rubies today!) Hey, if we're still unagented this time next year, we can come up with another game plan for dealing with our ICs!

Darcy: No doubt you have mad air guitar skills! Your cats and my cat can be thankful that we don't resort to putting them in fancy outfits to feel better. ;) And, being part of the Lucky 13s had added more fun, inspiring stuff to my Happy File!

Kimberly: Gorilla tape? Brilliant! Oh, the Secret is so tricky because it doesn't let you obsess over things, and you're only supposed to ask for things once. Hey, can we all call Pintip? LOL

Miranda Liasson said...

Bonnie, I love your voice and sense of humor!!! I love the Happy File and the Mantra ideas. Two big weapons against that crazy inner beotch. When I can't shut her up, I put on headphones (with no music). Don't ask me why that works. I guess it makes me feel cocooned in a zone where no one can reach me...not even her! Thanks for a great post!

Pintip said...

Ha, Kim. I've gotten pretty good at yelling at other people's inner critics (especially when they're as ridiculous as yours). It's my own I need to work on.

Bonnie, this is such a great post and welcome to Honestly YA! I really love your positivity mantras. My mantras keep changing, but the one I've been relying on lately is: "I'm the only one who can write this story." And I love the idea of the Happy Files. I tried doing this once a long time ago, but I wasn't very good about keeping up with it. It might need to be resurrected now. Thank you for the reminder. Congrats on the final, and best of luck with your manuscript!

Bonnie Staring said...

Miranda: Great idea with the headphones! My cat might appreciate that better. ;)

Pintip: I love your current mantra! :::writes it on a big pink Post-It note to stick to my monitor::: My Happy File has helped me get through a lot of things, like my current revisions. LOL

Unknown said...

Love the play lists, happy file and mantras, Bonnie! I have one word sitting off to the side of my computer. The word is "believe." Believe all the good stuff, that dreams are possible -- not the negative stuff that the inner critic says.

Nan Dixon said...

Bonnie wonderful post,
And such a good reminder. I remember one of my first conferences. The writer, name now forgotten, said she drove to work every morning reciting the mantra, I will do the work and I will be published. (Because you need both--unfortunately) I'd better start reciting my mantra every day!
I feng shiu-ed my office (can that be a verb?) and hung up the contest finals and plaques in the Fame and Reputation section. (Tiara is across from there in Career and Life Path. Hmmm what does this say about my life?)
I don't look at them often, but I know they are there. I guess those are my Happy Places.
But being a perpetual optimist helps. It's only during sleepless nights when I worry people will realize I'm still a clueless writer. (Sleeping pills will cure that right? Or those cabana boys!)
Looking forward to meeting you (and the cabana boys -- please bring them) in Atlanta.

Sonali Dev said...

Bonnie, frankly I'm a little disturbed that you know Angelina Jolie's birthday. But with these great ideas to finally wrestle my monster of a critic down and then stomp it into the dirt, I think you might've redeemed yourself.

Bonnie Staring said...

Jacqui: Believe is so freaking powerful! And much more affordable to tattoo than longer mantras!

Nan: There's a Fame and Reputation section for feng shui? Shoot. I think my laundry hamper might be in mine right now. ;) The cabana boys are excited about Atlanta too -- but you have to promise to not hog them all!

Sonali: It's also Parker Stevenson's birthday, if that helps me redeem myself!

India Powers said...


You're absolutely right--we are our own worst critics!

I've noticed my IC's comments vary with my mood. If I'm in a good mood, I'll like my writing. If it's a bad one, I'll want to toss my manuscript into the trash. In other words, my opinion about my writing is utterly unreliable!

Knowing this makes it easier to ignore my IC. I wouldn't trust someone whose critique of my work varied with their mood, so why should I trust my IC which does the same?

Thanks for the great post. I can't wait to meet you in Atlanta!

mary sullivan said...

Hi Bonnie! What a great post. When my inner critic becomes too loud and persistent, I turn to other writers for support. Nobody else understands how negative and destructive that nasty IC can be quite like they do!

Bonnie Staring said...

India: Ooh, good point about varying comments. The same can probably be said about book reviewers! Looking forward to Atlanta, too!

Mary: Well, hello there! I don't know what I would have done without all the fantabulous writer friends I've made through RWA.

Anonymous said...

I stifle the b!tch by calling the Quincies for puns and cabana boys. ;) The boys never fail, especially when they bring the chocolate fountain.

Bonnie Staring said...

That's always a good plan, Joan! If only those cabana boys didn't distract me from my WIP as well. ;)

Lark Howard said...

Great tips, Bonnie! When I'm stuck or discouraged, I often turn to WRITE OR DIE and let my subconscious take charge for a while. In the crazy attempt to write quickly to achieve an unrealistic goal, my IC doesn't have the chance to criticize. And when I'm done, I'm always amazed at how well my subconscious writes.

Bonnie Staring said...

You're a much braver woman than me, Lark! That red flashing screen and seeing my words disappear scares me way too much. Hang on, then that might just work for me. ;)

Kari Edgren Miller said...

Great Post, Bonnie. It took me awhile to recognize the destructive side of my inner critic. At first, I thought it was just trying be helpful, or keep my head in reality. No, sir. It wanted me to admit defeat and hide under the bed. I think we all need to listen more to our inner cheerleaders. Thank you for the fabulous advice -- I'm starting my happy folder tonight!

Bonnie Staring said...

Thanks, Kari! Isn't it a shame that we believe the negative stuff more easily than the positive? Le sigh. So glad you've got a happy file going! Hooray!

Unknown said...

Excellent tips, Bonnie! I'm a big fan of music to drown out the negative thoughts. I have a positive, can do, play list that I use to lift me up.

I really love the idea of a happy folder. That would be a good place to store the inspirational quotes I collect.

I'm going to add a Happy Folder to my One Notes folders--that way it won't get lost in the clutter on my desk. (I admit it's a never ending battle for me.)

If you haven't tried One Note, it's awesome! Thanks for the post!

Bonnie Staring said...

Thanks Laurie! I'll have to give One Note a try.