Writers tend to be very opinionated and critical people. Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be.
This “critical editor component” of our personality is invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.
However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.
Think About It
Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critics or editors in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress! Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” be in charge.
Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things.
Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe. We waste precious writing time staying stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative.
Change Your Perspective
It reminds me of a story I read about “The River and the Lion”:
After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost drowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”
Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”
“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”
Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.
Control What You Can: Yourself
We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spend entire days fuming and fretting over situations or people we can’t change or control, wasting writing energy and writing time.
We need to save our judging skills for revision time and critiquing. We need to save our control freak behaviors for finagling with our characters’ actions. And you may as well give up having to convince people you’re right, while you’re at it. Letting go of those three things (judging, controlling, being right) will give you more inner peace faster than hours of yoga and meditation and mind-altering substances. And you will redeem the time so you can write.
Think about something that is currently keeping your mind in knots to the point that you can barely write. I will bet that you are judging someone’s behavior, or trying to figure out how to control a situation, or having mental conversations in which you prove to that stubborn person how right you are. (I know this from personal experience in case it feels like I’ve been reading your mail.)
Letting go of criticism and control is freedom. For the writer, it means hours and hours are freed up for reading and writing. Just for today, let grown people and situations be what they are. Let them work on solutions for their own problems–or not. Turn all that “should” energy on your own work.
At the end of day, you’ll have something good to show for it!
Irene S. Roth