Monday, August 24, 2009

What To Do When You're Stumped

Occasionally you may find yourself in despair over your writing. Every writer eventually suffers from that internal critic who's there reading over his or her shoulder. The voice is so loud it can make you forget the piece you're working on right now is a draft -- just an early stage in the process.

A great piece of advice on silencing that critic comes from New Hampshire writers Becky Rule and Sue Wheeler in their book Creating the Story: Guides for Writers. I bought this book years ago after taking summer writing course Becky offered through the University of New Hampshire.

I still dip into this book now an again when I need inspiration or the wise advice of seasoned writers. Creating the Story is filled with short guides on writing, and includes some excellent exercises. While it was designed mostly for fiction writers, the exercises work well for writers of any genre.

In their guide called Control the nagging critic in your head (page 49), Becky and Sue offer this innovative take on sending away the critic:

"If your critic won't go away when you tell her to, put your writing aside for fifteen minutes, and let the critic dictate a letter to you. She will use your name, "Dear Danielle" or Dear Sol." Let the critic say every rotten thing about you she's ever thought or said. Don't worry about
logic or fairness. Just turn the critic loose on the page. Then, when you read the letter out loud, you'll be astonished at how vindictive, illogical and downright absurd she is. Hopefully you'll laugh. Finally, as if you were your own best, most supportive friend, write that critic a letter pointing out where she's unreasonable and wrong. Tell her you're trying to write and that takes courage. You're exploring on the page, groping, feeling your way along. This draft, and probably the next three to six drafts are for you, not her. You need to discover things about your main character and to see what she will do, think, say, and feel. Remind your critic that critics only criticize finished products. They come in after your hard work is done."

I'd love to hear from any of our readers who try this technique.

1 comment:

Andy said...

I think Becky Rule is just great, too. I love her New Hampshire author interview series on NHPTV.

This is terrific advice. I've never actually tried it, but if I'm ever not able to slap my inner critic down, I'll give it a whirl.

Thanks, Janet!