I sometimes wonder how many women writers aren’t writing because the inner critic—that blatherer Virginia Woolf dubbed the Angel in the House—has been chattering on autopilot for so long its judgments drown out the writer and her voice. One insidious problem with the inner critic is that it’s been our default setting for so long it sounds normal. Instead of questioning its judgment on our writing, we believeit, which in turn undermines and disempowersour writing.
As someone whose inner critic blared at full volume for years—make that decades—I have learned a thing or two about how to quiet its incessant chatter. Not turn it off, mind you. The inner critic is like those trick birthday candles that spark back to life just when you think you can sit back and finally catch your breath. One-upping your inner critic takes practice and wit, but freeing yourself from its grip empowers your writing and helps you to see the truth about who you are as a writer.
An effective antidote to the inner critic is setting a writing intention. By its very nature a deliberate writing intention challenges the inner critic. Why? Because in order to set a writing intention, you must become clear about your writing dreams and goals. Who do you want to be as a writer? What role do you want writing to play in your life? This clarity begins to shift your attention away from the drone of the inner critic and reminds you that you are in fact a writer who has a goal, a dream, and a vision for your writing. By setting your writing intention, you are speaking your writing dream into yourself and also out into the universe. The intention, then, begins to galvanize the forces within you—your energy and attention—and it activates your writing muse, which receives the message that your writing is a priority. And your muse cannot wait for you to take back the energy and attention that gets syphoned by an unchecked inner critic.
With practice, over time, your intention begins to speak louder than the inner critic. But when the inner critic flares—and, yes, there will be times—you are armed with an intention that reminds you and your inner critic who’s in charge, who’s calling the shots, who’s running the show. Bringing your attention back to your intention interrupts the relentless chatter and points you back in the direction of your writing dreams and goals.
I have come to think of my writing intention as a kind of magic. When I start down that slippery slope of criticism but somehow manage to return my mind to my writing intention, speak it out loud, something magical happens. I find myself returning to my work with a sentence that, more often than not, cracks the writing open for me. And it is a kind of magic: the power of voice and creation and truth over that of silence and destruction and lies.
I like to write my writing intention on an index card and post it above my desk. When I raise my eyes from my computer screen, it is there, my guiding light—indeed, my truth—hanging from my windowsill, just beneath the camellias, currently blooming here in Virginia.
What is your writing intention? What do you want for yourself and for your writing? I invite you to create an intention that inspires you to rise to your boldest, biggest, truest writing self. Your writing beacon; your guiding light. If you want to ratchet it up a notch, post it in the comments section and reinforce the message you are sending to the tiresome inner critic that you are now running the show.
To your writing intention,