Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.
When I begin working with women in my “Transform Your Writing/Transform Your Life” mentorship program, I give them what I call a “Conscious Writing Packet.”
The assignments in the Conscious Writing Packet set a foundation for the work we embark on together by helping the mentee get very clear about her core subject, her writing intentions, her writing dreams and goals, and her “Angel in the House.”
“Angel in the House” is a term Virginia Woolf used to identify her inner critic. You can read about the Angel in the House here.
One of the reasons it is so important for both me and my mentee to be aware of how her particular inner critic operates is because it can be relentless in silencing her, especially as she homes in on the deeper truth—the emotional truth and transformational arc—of the story she’s come to the page to tell. Left alone with her Angel, she can lose all perspective about who she is as a writer and why her story matters.
By becoming ruthlessly aware of our Angel in the House—our inner critic—and how it manifests, we begin to discern the truth about who we are as writers from the “lie” the inner critic spews in our ear.
This past week one of my mentees got sideswiped by a particularly ruthless Angel in the House. The “you don’t have a story to tell so why bother writing your memoir” Angel.
I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have to take this Angel to the mat at some point in her writing career. But when she does, the opportunity for her to grow on the page and off the page is limitless. She becomes unstoppable in her writing and in her life.
Here is the (slightly edited) reply that I sent to my mentee when she reached out for help with her Angel. May it help you to see your inner critic in a new light; indeed, to invite your inner critic to help you expand your writing and grow more into your truest self both on and off the page.
First, I am so so glad that you took the time to send this email. It shows how aware you are of your own material and how committed you are to seeing your writing and your life through “true eyes.” It also sends a huge message to your Angel, i.e., inner critic, that you are the one in charge, that you are wrestling your brilliant mind and deep knowing and vision back from the life-long internalized programming of this particular Angel, even when it throws you into doubt about your writing and your story and your own emotions. As if you are not allowed to fully experience and express, i.e., shape into an artistic expression, your unique experience, your emotional truth. So, let’s take a moment just to notice and acknowledge that the act of not only recognizing the Angel but also going one step further to interrupt it by reaching out is HUGE. You’ve already won. Be pleased.
And, yes, you are 100 percent correct: this is an Angel. What’s very telling to me is that you were around family when it reared its head. And this is in no way a criticism of your family or of your sister! It’s simply an acknowledgment of the fact that when we get around our families of origin, our old programming, which fuels our Angels, gets stirred up. Suddenly we are facing the very programming that we’ve spent so much time, energy, and inner work freeing ourselves from. And because you have done your work and have committed to your literary genius, your wise writing self AND to excavating, crafting, and claiming your story, i.e., to writing your memoir, you were able to discern that this “backlash” (or “backtalk” from your programming, if you will) is nothing more or less than an Angel. Wow, wow, wow.
So, let’s look at this as an opportunity for you to grow and expand in relationship to this Angel and to your inner programming, shall we?
First, I notice that you sent your email late last night. I’m guessing that composing and sending the email tilted the balance (if only slightly) back in the direction of you reclaiming your voice, vision, and power. (Wrestling yourself and your truth back from the Angel.) But I also imagine that because this was such a fierce backlash, it likely still has a hold on you today.
So, what I’d like you to do is this. Sit with this particular Angel. An Angel is, at its root, fear. So, sit with this particular fear that is threatening to silence you. Breathe deeply into this fear. Allow it. Acknowledge it. Accept it. And as you do this, keep breathing with the knowing that this is part of your job as a female writer, to write your truth despite this Angel, and right now this means allowing this Angel to flow through you without resistance.
In other words, by acknowledging this Angel, talking to it, and embracing it, you are allowing it to move through you as opposed to resisting it, which causes a block. (Which is why you were suddenly plagued with thoughts that you don’t have a story, a deeper truth, or a transformational arc.)
Another way to say this: Fear (the Angel) is energy that we resist. When we resist fear, we automatically stop breathing and tighten our bodies against it. This throws our entire being into “lockdown.” Everything halts. By breathing into this fear and embracing this Angel, you are actually STAYING PRESENT to the fear it is churning up in you. And as odd as it sounds (and as shitfuckingcrapassed awful as if feels) this is an excellent opportunity for growth. Why? Because you begin to learn how to sit with the Angel and let it pass through you without it derailing you from your writing.
And when you get derailed from your writing? You are actually disconnecting from yourself.
So the main thing I want you to do as you breathe and allow this Angel to surface, even welcome it, is to keep noticing YOUR DEEP AUTHENTIC SELF. Yes, the Angel is here, but you get to choose to remain connected to your SELF in the face of this Angel.
In my experience, it actually only takes seconds–10, 20, 30–to feel a wave of the Angel/Fear and return to your writing. But then when you pick up your pen and return to your memoir, the Angel will return in another wave. When it does, set down your pen. Embrace the Angel. Breathe into it. Feel the wave of fear. Then return to your memoir writing. Then, when the Angel rears again, allow it, breathe into it, feel it, accept it.
There is no limit to how many times is “acceptable” to pause the writing to “process” the Angel. Indeed, it is part of the writing process. Well, it’s part of YOUR writing process because you are a conscious writer. And as a conscious writer, acknowledging and growing in self-awareness in relationship to your Angels is part of the process.
The fear may feel tingly in your body as you allow it to “flow” through you. You may feel it in the pit of your abdomen or in your chest or somewhere else in your body. And you may feel like you want to “flee” from it. But keep breathing, keep acknowledging your connection to your deeper self. And keep reminding yourself that what you are feeling is actually the–what was that word?–shitfuckingcrapassed awful ; > underbelly of living a conscious life, which we know is a prerequisite to writing a memoir of substance and meaning.
You may want to jot down the thoughts that emerge as you breathe into your Angel. For me, these thoughts are usually in the neighborhood of “I can’t do this,” “I’m not really a writer,” “I don’t have a story,” “I suck.”
Allow your “programmed” thoughts to emerge, capture them on the page (I usually jot mine on scrap paper), and allow them to flow, too. Notice them (they are part of the Angel’s arsenal of tricks) and acknowledge them and let them go.
It’s kind of a mind-body-energy version of weeding out your old programming and becoming damn savvy about the truth of who you are as you continue to acknowledge that you and your writing are NOT your Angels. And that your Angels are not the truth of who you are as a writer.
But you get to choose whether to accept these Angels and see them for what they are, which will empower and expand you and your writing, or resist them and stay “in battle” with them, which will keep your writing within the “comfort zone” of the Angels.
Okay. Have I freaked you out and overwhelmed you yet? ; >
Know that I would not have written this email if I didn’t have a thousand-percent confidence in who you are both as a writer and as a mindful woman. I KNOW you can use this Angel backlash as an opportunity to expand your writing, your vision, and your visibility beyond the comfort zone of your Angels. Which is to say beyond who you were allowed to be in your life within your family of origin. (Again, not a criticism of your lovely people!)
You are a writer, X, a poet, an essayist, and a memoirist. You have within you a memoir story that carries with it a divine and beautiful universal truth.
May embracing your Angels and allowing them to move through you as you stay connected to your Self and your writing clarify your vision of your story and its deeper emotional truth.
Sending so much love and encouragement and unwavering faith in you and in your writing,
P.S. Err on the side of bombarding me with emails and/or phone calls as you process this challenge and raise your vision, your clarity, and your writing to the next level. I am SO here for you. xo
I have been reading Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty. She is an American Buddhist nun, and applies the same kind of breathing in and acceptance to all the troubling emotions of our lives. You have made it specific to the writing process. For that I thank you.