Originally posted back in 2012 on my old (now archived) blog.
Coe Booth says, in a wonderful post on the old VCFA faculty blog, which I am not sure is even accessible now:
The kind of self-talk that goes on during the fragile stage has so much power over the course of our writing. Positive self-talk can be inspiring, keeping us motivated as we find our way with a new story. But negative self-talk can be debilitating. It can stop us before we put a word on the page, keeping us in an endless cycle of wanting to write but holding ourselves back, time after time after time.
That is so true–or at least it is when you’re at (or is it on?) that fragile stage.
I know all about fragile stages. I was the klutzy kid who, at 11, stepped on the only loose floorboard in a wooden stage during a dress rehearsal–and fell right through, perfectly in time to the high tumbling notes of Ariel’s song from The Tempest.
Oh, how I wish that I had possessed a smart, knowledgeable inner critic at the time! A voice of caution. A voice that might have warned, “Hear that creak? Step away. Fast.” Instead I stayed and fidgeted. Made the board creak louder and louder, until the fateful crash.
You may gather from this that I’m all for inner critics.
Coe’s right, of course. You can’t let the critic loose when you’re creating that first, fragile stage. That’s a structure you want to get across with quick, light steps, just barely managing to lay the planks down as you go. Pay no attention to the creaking. That’s normal.
It will be flimsy, of course. You want it to be. If you nailed it all down it would be secured way too soon. You want it changeable, with moveable parts many of which will need replacing.
But what comes next is the part of writing I love the most. Revision. Which is where I urge you, revive your inner critic. Tame him. Give her tools. Then put that critic to work.
When I have that first clumsy construction done, my inner critic and I can stroll around its edges, studying it, figuring out what fits, what doesn’t, and what was very definitely a misstep. I have to train my critic. She can’t go crashing all over that fragile stage. But I do need her to raise questions. Does that character belong? Do those two others need to be a single person? Does that motivation work? Is that premise too clever? Too neat? Too slight? What’s this really about? Whose story is it? Who should tell it and to whom?
Only my inner critic would dare raise such questions.
My creative self certainly couldn’t do this work. She’s so tired from having flung floorboards around that she thinks she’s done.
Some people think we should ignore that questioning voice. I say, by all means challenge your critic when the drafty winds are blowing through those loose boards. But crush? Drown? Hmm, I’m not so sure. Put her on a plane, maybe. Send him away on vacation while you play with the puzzle pieces. But when you have a working version, bring that critic back, rested, refreshed, and ready to ask the tough questions.