• Your Internal Critic at Its Worst

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 46 comments

    Discussion questions: What is the worst thing your internal critic tells you? That one most abusive piece of negative self-talk, the one he/she knows will make you want to give up and never write again? Let us know in the comments.


    Last week we talked about seeking words of wisdom from famous authors, and what your inspirational quote might be for struggling writers of the future. You know, after you become a famous author.

    It got me to wondering: When am I most in need of such advice or inspiration?

    The real answer is: I most need inspiration when my internal critic is being a shithead.

    Which is often.


    Sometimes my internal critic takes aim at my talent: “You’re not good enough”; “You’re not good at all“; “That line you just wrote is garbage, but not as garbagey as the next line will be.” You know.

    Other times it focuses on plot and character rather than craft: “This ‘story’ is dull, pointless”; “These characters are flawed, and not in a good way”; “You have no sense of story structure.”

    Occasionally he compares me to other writers, and, naturally, finds me lacking: “You’ll never write something as good as that thing you just read. And if that’s the case, then why try at all?”

    But the worst thing my internal critic does is try to convince me that nothing I’m doing matters: “Nobody will care if this never gets published, and nobody will care if this *does* get published. This thing you’re writing now? It’s not going to make any difference in the world. Ever. So why keep going?”

    That’s when I most need inspiration. To answer that question.

    Usually I find it. Sometimes I don’t.


    What is the worst thing your internal critic tells you? That one most abusive piece of negative self-talk, the one he/she knows will make you want to give up and never write again?

    And, most importantly, how do you combat it? How do you make your internal critic go away, at least for a while? Or, if not go away, how do you at least lower his/her volume to the point where you can get some writing done?

    Let’s talk about it in the comments below. And don’t worry, it’s a safe space: No internal critics are allowed in my comments section.


    WriteByNight 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.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Hans De Leo

    This one hits home. Here’s a few of mine. “Your characters are bland and all sound the same.” “Your story is clunky and feels forced.” “You’re not good enough to make it as a writer, and you never will be.” “This is like a third rate soap opera.” Interestingly enough, when I first started writing, those voices were silent. I think it’s because I had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until I got some honest feedback that I got a dose of reality. That being said, I think this is more about balance than silencing the negative… Read more »


    “If you REALLY could write a novel you would have done it by now!” – evil critic That is when I don my Ninja Turtle dome. Some years ago I purchased a drawing from an artist at a festival. It showed a tortoise lumbering, laboring up a steep mountain in a thunderstorm, a church at the top of the mountain. Instead of a shell, though, the tortoise had a dome made of stained glass, like a church, a sanctuary. The name of the drawing is “Survivor” I look at my picture, I crawl into my shell and tell my critic… Read more »


    David, you are such a very nice young man.


    Mine tells me that I don’t have “it” anymore, that I lost “it” somewhere and won’t get it back. When I compare my writing now to what I wrote years ago I see better writing back then, but then maybe it’s just different. Who knows? That nasty little devil keeps telling me I’ve lost “it” whatever that is. Sometimes I can ignore it but sometimes I let it discourage me and bring me down. I just have to keep writing in spite of that dastardly little voice.

    stephen Glick

    I am not sure what my negative voice is trying to tell me. pause. Okay it tells me to place on my writing hat . Done. While I wear my hat the devil doesn’t quiet have the power over me. It is there on my shoulder whispering to me Your uneducated! you don’t have a big vocabulary. I got to stop too many are getting in.


    NaNoWriMo helped me get passed my inner critic. Head down, get the words out, no time to stop and worry if it’s perfect or even good. Get the words down. After years of practice, rough drafts are a breeze for me because I’m in a space that is inner critic free. Now I struggle with revisions and rewrites. I have to tap into my inner critic in order to revise, and she is mean. All the things I’ve heard about my writing over the years gets mirrored back to me. Those beta readers that didn’t get it, or gave bad… Read more »


    My IC never comes right out and says things like “bad character development or pump up your dialogue”. At least I could work on those things. She’s a little sneak who sweetly asks, “Who’s gonna read this stuff?” My fingertips stop tapping the keyboard, my brain freezes & I hear the leftover baked ziti calling from the fridge. OMG-What if no one reads me? But, I grab an apple (which may be the single worst substitute for yummy cheesy pasta) & continue my story that will always have at least 1 reader–me.

    adrien leslie

    David, that was so funny;)) but no apples in the kitchen when you need ’em is an easy fix. Enjoyed your comment, 진 짜!

    Kimberly Glunz

    I wrote a play once and was given the opportunity to have several actors read it aloud. Let me tell you, mortified isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I felt listening to my carefully crafted dialogue. Matter of fact, I’d won 3rd place in a state-wide contest for this play, but listening to it out-loud in front of several folks really caused me to go ‘in hiding’ creatively. Whenever I write now (and I do write parodies of classic movies with friends), I remind myself of how awful -what I thought was decent work -sounded that day! Consequently,… Read more »


    That is the reason you need to read what you wrote aloud as if you are recording it. Listen to those words. It does help a whole lot do hear it aloud. That or use an e-reader. Even without the inflection, you get a feel for rhythm, sound, and word choice.


    IIFR, Carson McCullers had a similar experience when she adapted “Member Of the Wedding” for Broadway…actually hearing actors rehearse her lines was traumatic and caused her to doubt her talent…this was after the original novel had been a huge hit and the Broadway rights had been sold for big $….she was her own worst critic…


    Yeah, the critic needs to get lost…you know…the long walk off a short plank in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Mine tells me everyone else writes better than you, so why are you doing this. That character sucks. They all sound alike. You write like a kid. Everything your write sounds the same….BORING. I could go on, but it becomes repetitive. I lock that critic into a sound proof room, close the door and won’t open it until I’m ready to edit. Even then, I’ll lock her up if she is too obnoxious. I don’t have time to appease… Read more »


    I’m one of those people who can block out everything around and work, which includes that critic who says I have to change everything from the day before. It’s like I tell them to shut up and leave me alone and do what I want. Other than an word or two to pick up where I left off, I change nothing and if I start to do so, I put a timer on and I have to write at least 1K words within that hour, preferably 1.2K or more. You don’t have time to edit when you are working against… Read more »


    It was one of the things in the books for NaNoWriMo I read last year. It’s a great way to not waste time clicking through things.


    I have terminal “who cares?”…I always wonder “who the hell would want to read this, and why? Just because I might think it’s interesting, funny, provocative, cogent doesn’t mean anyone else thinks so…I also think my writing is too preachy (too much Harlan Ellison influence, maybe? I tried to emulate his work for years and never came close…). So, beaten before i begin, paralysis by analysis…


    David, as you said to Kimberly Glunz in this thread…there is a desire to connect through writing. I express myself more effectively on paper than I think I do verbally. Sometimes it’s a desire to Say It to someone I can’t (or feel I can’t) communicate with. Here’s What I Think About Whatever! – spelled out as clearly as I can including 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one…

    david lemke

    I’m probably weird here. I don’t have one. I just write away either thinking this is good or writing and thinking this is not good, but it will be when I get the re-write done. I do have a monster who comes out from under the bed or out from under the computer desk and starts ripping off arms heads and legs. It comes out after I’ve had a negative critique. That’s when I break out the cyanide capsules or climb to the lip of the volcano and look down into the inviting fluids. Some time has to pass before… Read more »

    david lemke

    Yeah, I know. If I had know what it was back then, I would have been writing within a few days or weeks. We’ll see if I get anything done today.

    david lemke

    I worked on a character interview. Wrote about a page of useful stuff. It’s promising.

    José Skinner

    We’re told that to be good writers, we need to read widely. There’s a pitfall in this great advice, however, which you mention above: comparing your writing to the great stuff and deciding you come up short. The temptation then is to chuck what you’ve written and try to write like THAT, whatever the “that” is at the moment. But rather than trying to imitate that writing (or that other, or the book you read last week), I recommend going to the top of the piece you’re working on, seeing what voice and tone and style announced itself at the… Read more »

    José Skinner

    LOL! What a coincidence. I’m writing some memories of growing up in Mexico and of going bowling every Friday at the Casino de la Selva in Cuernavaca. I inserted a quote from Lowry describing the place, and the contrast with my own writing is alarming. I think I’m either going to have to take it out or risk readers tossing mine aside and rushing to read Under the Volcano. Sigh. Well, I still have my story to tell. My own impressions of the place. In my way. Right? Right??


    My biggest one is the voice that says, “no one wants to hear what you have to say.” It stops me cold. It cripples me. I sit in front of the computer looking at a blank screen that should have my story on it and I wonder if the voice is right. The longer I sit there, the more I believe it. But I keep trying. I am a writer and that’s what a writer does.


    I have a family blog. I click off of the blank page and go to the blog to share what we are doing here in North Carolina. Our family is in Ohio and Florida. It is easier to write for the blog because I know they will be reading what I have to say and be interested. With that slight confidence boost, I go back to the blank page and begin again. It’s kind of a “clunky” system, but it works for me to a certain degree.


    Hmm…that is a very good question. I suppose whenever I sit down to write…I occassionally hear annoying thoughts being whispered to me such as: ‘Why bother writing today?” “Do you really think you are ever going to make a living off of your writing?” “You know, writers make no money, honey!” I sometimes hear the inner critic screaming at me too. “Hey, lady. The world does not need ANOTHER writer!” Find a real job!” I really try my best to SHUT this stupid inner critic up. Sometimes, I need to walk out of the room and fix myself a cup… Read more »

    david lemke

    I hope each of you had a happy and pleasant Thanksgiving.

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