Monday, November 4, 2013

Tool # 48: limit self-criticism in early drafts.

. . . Turn it loose during revision.

This is certainly what holds me back as a writer: self-criticism.  Since many writing-related challenges are in full swing, I think this is a perfect topic for today's post!

Roy shares from two books on writing, both published in the 1930's: "Becoming a Writer" (1934), by Dorothea Brande, and Brenda Ueland's,  "If You Want to Write" (1938).

"Brande. . .is most powerful on the topic of self-criticism. To become a fluent writer, she argues, one must silence the internal critic early in the process.  The critic becomes useful only when enough work has been done to warrant evaluation and revision.

Four decades later, (Roy goes on to say), another writer, Gail Godwin, would cover the same territory in an essay titled "The Watcher at the Gate." For Godwin, the Watcher is the "restraining critic who lived inside me," and who appeared in many forms to kick the doors of her creativity:

'It is amazing the lengths a Watcher will go to keep you from pursuing the flow of your imagination. Watchers are notorious pencil sharpeners, ribbon changers, plant waterers, home repairers and abhorrers of messy rooms or messy pages. They are compulsive looker-uppers.mthey cultivate self-important eccentricities they think are suitable for "writers" and they'd rather die (and kill your inspiration with them) than risk making a fool of themselves.'

Brenda Ueland, writing on the same topic of self-criticism notes that "all people who try to write. . .become anxious, timid, contracted, become perfectionists, so terribly afraid that they may put something down that is not as good as Shakespeare."  

"That is one loud critical voice, one bug-eyed watcher", Roy observes.

For Godwin (Mr. Clark continues), weapons against the watcher include such things as deadlines, writing fast, writing at odd times, writing when you are tired, writing on cheap paper, writing in surprising forms from which no one expects excellence.

So, how can we put this all to use in the WORKSHOP?

Try this:

Godwin writes that she fools the Watcher by disguising the form of writing. So if she is working on a draft of a short story, she may disguise it in the form of a letter. The next time you struggle with a story, put a salutation at the top ("Dear friend") and write a message to your friend about the story. See what happens.

I hope you found useful this chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

NEXT WEEK: Tool #49 Learn from your critics


  1. This piece was informative; thanks for sharing it. I learned of this blog through I like it. I have been sitting here 22 minutes scrolling through your post. I see why you were awarded the Liebster Award. This is good for writers.

    1. Thanks, Jackie, for stopping by. Although I am truly appreciative for winning the award, I don't have the time to do it justice. I hope you will enjoy my other entries. Take care!


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Journey into the Promised Land
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