• When Does Your Internal Critic Take the Field?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 23 comments


    Discussion questions: Is your internal critic a Sunday quarterback or a Monday-morning quarterback? Does he/she/it try to prevent you from writing at all (Sunday), or does he/she/it allow you to write because he/she/it enjoys making you tear yourself down afterwards (Monday)?

    If you could change your internal critic’s workday from Sunday to Monday or vice versa, would you?



    Opening Kickoff

    A few nights ago a writer friend and I had the following conversation over text:

    Him: “Sat down to work on a new story last night and felt suddenly very embarrassed. Tried to shake it but only hit about 500 words before I retreated to bed feeling like shit. Does that ever happen to you?”

    Me: “Not often. Usually I’m very happy with what I’m writing while I write it. The next day, when I read it, I’m totally humiliated and crushed, and that’s when I retreat to bed. Different routes, same destination. But you’re writing, at least. That’s good to hear. Gonna try again tonight?”

    Him: “Yeah, I thought about some fixes this afternoon so I’ll try it again tonight.”

    The next morning, I checked in:

    Me: “Did you try to write last night? Any better?”

    Him: “I got too high and watched [a movie] instead.”


    Sunday vs. Monday-Morning Quarterbacks

    I’ve written before about how my internal critic — my Monday-morning quarterback — tries to trip me up, but rarely when I’m actually writing. When I’m writing, my critic takes a casual stroll around town, pushing kids off bikes, stealing nuts from squirrels, harassing the homeless. He gives me the space to produce words and pages — to build my confidence and get happy with myself as a writer — just so that he can come back when I’m most vulnerable and kick me square in the… everything.

    My friend has a Sunday quarterback for an internal critic. When he settles in to write, his critic pulls up a chair and nestles in behind him. While he writes, his critic taps him on the shoulder and says, “Hi! This shit you’re writing is terrible. Honestly? I don’t see the point in continuing. Do you? No, right? OK, so shut the computer off — that’s a good boy — and let’s go watch that new TV show.”


    Which Internal Critic QB Haunts You?

    Is your internal critic a Sunday quarterback or a Monday-morning quarterback? Does he/she/it try to prevent you from writing at all (Sunday), or does he/she/it allow you to write because he/she/it enjoys making you tear yourself down afterwards (Monday)?

    If you could change your internal critic’s schedule from Sunday to Monday or vice versa, would you?

    Let’s huddle up in the comments.


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    WriteByNight writing coach and co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

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    Barbara Frandsen

    I am haunted by the Monday morning quarterback. Usually, I feel great while writing. Later, I hear a voice telling me my writing is silly and no one will be interested. If I can manage to hang on through editing, I can often return to a feeling of pleasure.


    The IC works on me both Sunday and Monday. He is worse on Sunday, prompting a lot of inertia against getting started. His Monday critiques lead to a lot of “what’s the use” moments. Still, I have my strategies for trying to control him. Working on smaller items to get to my main project often helps. The pressure of a goal sometimes helps (e.g., finishing the novel in time for the year-end book fair). Goals can backfire, though. If I see I can’t hit the target, it can be very discouraging. So it’s an ongoing struggle. But the IC can… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    My inner critic is the worst kind of Monday morning quarterback. He doesn’t play fair. He hits me like a rugby player the morning before the game. I’m lucky to make it to the playing field rather than landing in bed with critical injuries. He can still prevent me from starting to write. He used to be able to prevent me from finishing, but I’m the top of the league on that now. Once I’m in the game, I finish. And because of his early successes, I’ve got a whole lot of stuff started. So my job is to get… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    Hi David, thanks for asking. Rereading, revising, editing all the way to “almost ready to publish” is clear sailing. It’s like I’m the Green Bay Packers up against the Little League of football.

    In fact, coming back to reread what I wrote has always been the easiest and most uplifting part of my writing experience.

    The three challenges are getting started at all, making the last touchdown of the game when I’m down by 5 on the 2 yard line, and then on to publishing.

    Sid Kemp

    I play against him in all four leagues. Writing, I win. Finishing, I win more than I lose.

    Starting each writing session, it’s a battle, but I’m gaining ground over time.

    Publishing, I’m lining up my front four and when we’re invicible, I’ll make my plays.

    Sid Kemp

    I won’t look back – except in gratitude. My critic has made me an excellent writer and and helped me turn determination into courage. I’m grateful to him.

    Sid Kemp

    I made an error in the first line. In the terms the blog post uses, my quarterback is 100% Sunday morning. Once I start writing, he’s history.

    Barbara Mealer

    Mine would be the Monday morning quarterback, only he doesn’t get to me until I have a complete draft done. I gave myself permission to suck in the first draft, so other than reading where I left of from the day before so I know where I need to start, I don’t reread what I wrote and if I do, other than a couple of grammatical things, I don’t do any corrections or rewrites. The goal is to get the story down. Once I’ve done that, then it’s time to go back and see how bad it really is. But… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    You got it. I can spend the time to straighten out the mess I made of the plot before making other things nice and pretty. I can’t see editing something I may not even keep in the book, and yes, I’ve deleted chapters, characters, combined characters and added subplots, etc. Until I have the major revisions done that taskmaster editor is kept locked up while the writer then the developmental guy gets done.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I’ve got two ICs. One sticks with me for the play-by-play (no, run this way!). The other labors in the locker room, scribbling diagrams and positions on the blackboard in some weird cuneiform it expects me to understand. We make a good team. It’s just that the opposing team often parachutes onto the field, usually in clown cars, and tries to set fire to the goalposts.

    Elissa Malcohn

    They squabble all the time. (IC-1 runs off the field between plays and into the locker room. Spots IC-2 at the blackboard, which looks less like a football diagram and more like something out of A Beautiful Mind.) IC-1: What the hell is this? IC-2: You see this runner on second? (Points to a cube root inside a Venn diagram.) Our first baseman needs to come down and inside because of that fly ball our gal’s got hanging in left field. IC-1: We’re playing football! IC-2: No, we’re not. We’re translating from this game (jabs finger against formulas for compression ratio and piston speed)… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    After I posted it, IC-1 argued that I should have written “far end” rather than “far side,” and IC-2 helpfully pointed out that those blackboards are double-sided and so could have a far side, whereupon IC-1 countered that running around the blackboard (rather than just to the end of it) disrupts the whole rhythm of the scene, and IC-2 (thinking fast) suggested that far side is appropriate as an homage to Gary Larson. I left them to their spat and finished writing up a job for a client. Meanwhile, I’ve erected a force field around the fly ball to keep the parachuting… Read more »

    MJ DelConte

    Before I answer, I like the QB image posted on this blog. I know WbN spent some time in Houston. Is that a pic of David Carr?

    I don’t have an inner quarterback howling at me as much as I do a drill sergeant. He may be a righteous ass hat but he gets me motivated and moving.

    Not just Monday – ALL 7 days of the week. Like I said, he’s an ass hat.

    MJ DelConte

    HAHA! Classic! Gotta love what the AL West brings to the game.

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