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Writers’ Roundtable: Productivity & Taming Your Inner Critic

It seems like focusing gets harder and harder each day.

Have you ever felt that way? Do you find yourself piling up tasks to do, but decreasing in productivity? With technology surrounding us, distractions abound. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we’re overloaded with information and distractions.

On top of that, studies show that our average attention span is decreasing rapidly. A study by Microsoft Corporation recently reported that people now lose concentration after only eight seconds, compared to the previously measured twelve seconds. That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

Worst of all, when we finally decide to buckle down and focus, many of us find a voice within that keeps us from being productive. This often unwanted inner critic picks at our brains until we self-edit our work away.

We turned to our authors for advice, asking, “How do you tame your inner critic to achieve maximum productivity when you are writing?”

We got some awesome responses.

Katie Schuermann, author of House of Living Stones, The Choir Immortal, and Pew Sisters, said:

I treat my inner critic like a friend. After all, she wants what's best for my book too. We've also spent a lot of time together over the years, and she knows me pretty well at this point. I know her pretty well too, and we've agreed that our visits go best if she stops by after I've finished writing an entire chapter. That is when I officially invite her over for coffee, and we spend the afternoon talking about how to make my chapter better. I don't always like what she has to say, but I'd be a fool not to listen to her.
And then, like any friend, she politely leaves when the sun goes down, and she waits for me to invite her back another day. We're good like that.
Come to think of it, my inner critic has never told me her name, but I have a hunch that it's Mrs. Scheinberg.

Mary J. Moerbe, author of Blessed: God’s Gift of Love, Whisper, Whisper, and How Can I Help? said:

It isn’t that writing brings out my inner critic—she is always with me. Most of my experience with her comes from my normal, day-to-day life, but that also means that all the things that strengthen me throughout my day help me when I write too.
Writing every day also helps. It lets me fall into a pattern of writing when inspired, rereading when I’m in an emotionally stable place, and editing when I’m at my most analytical. I just have to recognize what I am best suited for at the time.
Other than that, when I write, either I am absorbed in the subject or I imagine someone I am trying to help. That helps me be disciplined by answering anticipated questions, concerns, and criticism on paper, which reassures me and, I hope, helps me give a thorough treatment of both topic and audience. I guess I treat self-criticism as part of my target audience.

Lisa M. Clark, author of The Messengers: Discovered and Blessing and Prayers for Parents, said:

When I used to teach, I would often tell students to relax about the details at first. Sometimes, we’re so worried about making things perfect that we’re frozen before we even begin to write.
I try to take my own advice, but it can be hard. As an early writer, I had tossed out many potential projects because my inner critic was much too harsh. Here are two ways I treat my inner critic:

  1. I wear hats. Not real ones, of course (well, my hat collection is another story). But I think of my vocation of the day. Am I Lisa the writer or Lisa the editor? And which kind of editor? Since I am also an editor for others, it helps for me to know that things don’t have to be perfect right away. So Lisa the writer takes over for a while and only does some editing that comes on the spot as she crafts a sentence. Then she often steps away from her work until her heart and mind are prepared for Lisa the editor. With fresh eyes, Lisa the editor comes in and works too, paying attention to the sound of words and the flow of thought. But Lisa the writer and Lisa the editor know that there are many editors to follow in this process of writing and that the text will be in very capable hands long after I say good-bye to the finished, not-so-finished work.
  2. I take a good look at my motivations. Why am I writing this? Who is this for? Why is my inner critic scolding my work? In other words, do I want my writing to be perfect because I’ll be too embarrassed if there is a flaw? (Newsflash: there always is.) Or am I doing my best to use my gifts to God’s glory? If it’s to God’s glory, I pray that God uses me as His instrument and grants me grace in my inevitable shortcomings. If it’s for my own benefit, I not-so-kindly tell my inner critic to take a hike.
Christina Hergenrader, author of Love Rules: A Study of the Ten Commandments and Starring Roles Devotional—Moms said:

My inner critic is different day to day. Like Lisa, my days seem to be either writing days or editing days. On editing days, my inner critic is screaming in my ear. On writing days, she only whispers. Most days, she manages a little of both.

I also agree with Katie that my inner critic is definitely my friend. I’ve found that if I pick fights with her, she only gets louder and more obnoxious.

On days when I’m dragging on a deadline and I need to get words on the page, I use a trick.  On my desk is a bright pink timer that our dentist gave our daughter. I turn it over and write for one full minute—even if the stuff that comes out is terrible.

By the time the pink sand has sifted to the bottom, my fingers are working on their own, and my inner critic is back to using her nice voice.

Donna Pyle, author of Without This Ring: Surviving Divorce, The God of All Comfort, and Quenched: Christ’s Living Water for a Thirsty Soul, said:

I fall a little different on the spectrum. In writing and teaching Bible studies, I find my inner critic to be invaluable. It's always challenging me to look deeper and put myself in the text. I tend to write a page or so, but then stop and reread it. I listen for my inner critic to ask valuable questions: "Are you interpreting those passages based on the text or on your own speculation or opinion?" "Imagine you are standing in that scene from Scripture; have you captured important details that might be missed at first glance?" My inner critic asks helpful questions to hone what's on the page. When negative thoughts, such as "That's the worst paragraph you've ever written!" pop into my head, that is usually fatigue-induced negativity where the enemy is working to drag me down. Such negativity is my clue to take a break, brew fresh coffee, play with the kitty cats, say a prayer, or sometimes just take a nap!

Written by

Emily Walton

Emily Walton is a recent graduate of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. She dreams of a world where international flights are as cheap as gelato and everyone appreciates the value of the Oxford comma. Follow her Instagram (@emilywltn) for a chronology of her name being confused with Emma Watson’s. #stillwatson

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