Beating the Writing Critic (with a club)

Rabbit - angryAll writers have one.  That little guy that sits on our shoulder telling us we’re no good, that every word we put on that page is terrible and not even worth the effort, that no one else is going to read it – let alone enjoy it – so why bother?  Even highly experienced and successful writers such as Isobelle Carmody and Marcus Zusak speak of self-doubt when writing.  So how to fight it?

The first writing workshop I attended at Qld Writer’s Centre many year ago was called ‘The First Novel’, run by Sarah Armstrong, and she talked about fighting the writing critic and getting through that first draft.  I think that’s where the writing critic tends to lurk the most – in first drafts, when we’re most vulnerable.

The single most effective technique I have for fighting my own writing critic is effectively telling him to bugger off.  Well, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated that that.  I think the most common thing our writing critics throw at us is ‘you can’t write’.  These are powerful words, and enough to make many people stop writing altogether.  But I’ve learnt to use a Hemmingway quote to throw back at my writing critic: ‘All first drafts are shit’.  First drafts are supposed to be a rabble of ideas, inconsistent characters, plots that don’t quite flow yet, clichéd metaphors and even worse.  First drafts are a place to get to know your characters and experiment with plot points.  First drafts are simply about getting the ideas down on paper.  It’s the later drafts that are used to go back and fix these things.

So whenever my writing critic tells me my writing is bad, I just tell him that it’s supposed to be that way.  After all, as Hemmingway effectively said, the role of a first draft is to be shit.  And who’s going to argue with Hemmingway?

11 Responses to “Beating the Writing Critic (with a club)”

  1. 1 ceylanthewriter January 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Tell the little devil that it will be amazing! If you don’t like it, don’t spend time yelling at me. Let’s see you write one! Keep positive!


  2. 2 Katherine Battersby January 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Ceylan, maybe I do sound a bit negative? I was being a little facetious, although telling off my writing critic does make me smile :) But I do like your positive attitude – I might try that next time! Great to hear what works for you.

  3. 3 Lynn Priestley January 9, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    That’s a great quote and one I totally agree with. I am getting better in letting things “go” as I journey through the unfolding story but there still is that nagging voice that wants to meddle in my writing affairs,and have everything perfect – which it never is and so the cycle of self doubt begins.

    First drafts are shit and I think the sooner we accept that, the freer we are to write the authentic story and be true to the characters as they evolve. As I evolve as a writer, I am able to let go of stuff much easier. I can now write entire chapters and say to myself,
    “Well…none of that worked,” and then let it go. I couldn’t do that a year ago. Whilst it seems like a lot of time wasted and a lot of hard work, its still all about finding the treasures that appear as we explore different directions.

    I see first drafts as merely getting the paint on the page. Filling the canvas with as many colours and textures as you can. Once that’s done, its time to make the picture clear and comprehendible with ongoing drafts that become the beautiful thing at the end of the writing journey. First drafts are hard work but are still so much fun. I think its the only time in the writing process where there really are no rules.

    Kath, I like that you tell your inner critic that its all meant to be as it is. You are right, no one can argue with that. Its like standing your ground with that pesky voice and taking all of its ammunition. It beats the little bugger at its own game.

    From a medical perspective, may I suggest shoving our thumbs in our ears and wiggling our fingers whilst reciting the “I can’t hear you,” chant three times over. Works for me!

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby January 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Lynn, I completely agree, and also love your finger waggling rebuttal! It’s quite liberating telling our writing critics off, and I’ve found that the longer I’ve been doing just that, the less he speaks to me. I love first drafts: it’s the only time writing when you have complete freedom to play, without the pressure of needing to get things ‘right’, so I decided long ago not to let my writing critic ruin that. From what you’ve said, it sounds like our writing methods are very similar – I really like the painting analogy.

  5. 5 Sheryl Gwyther January 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Kath, I’m really enjoying these little insights into how you write – very interesting and revealing. Finally got you into my Google reader so I can now keep up with what you’re doing. See you at the Aurealis!

  6. 6 Lynn Priestley January 10, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Apologies for incomprehensible typo about being comprehensible! Its amazing what I find after sleep!

  7. 7 Katherine Battersby January 10, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Sheryl – we writers often reveal more about ourselves in our work that we may like to! Glad you’ve been enjoying the blog. And can’t wait for the Aurealis – it should be a good night!

    Lynn – I quite enjoyed your thoughts, although the problem with being a writer is whenever we read over anything of ours (even if it is just a comment on someone’s blog) we want to edit it :)

  8. 8 Lynn Priestley January 10, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Ha, too true…I thought I’d put that little critic in my head to sleep, too. He is the infernal and eternal pest, it seems.

  9. 9 Madeline January 12, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Haha! I’ve re-written so many responses and emails it’s ridiculous! And as a perfectionist (the wrong kind of course–I find most of the time that if I know I won’t do something perfectly or completely I don’t do it at all) this is the biggest thing that I struggle with when I write. It is frustrating because I know I can write well (when everything is said and done, I like what I have written) but just as you said, there is that little voice while I’m writing that doesn’t think I can do it. Thanks for this post, Kath. I don’t think you need to edit it at all.


  10. 10 Katherine Battersby January 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks Mady! Although I did rewrite it several times before posting it (and even once again after posting it). I’m a champion editor of text messages and e-mails, even shopping lists occasionally. Ridiculous, isn’t it? But I suppose if we’re always editing, then we’re only going to get better for when we come to editing that novel…

  1. 1 Writing Blues « the Well Read Rabbit Trackback on February 6, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


Author Talks

Speakers Ink
Creative Net

%d bloggers like this: