I don’t want to silence either my interior critic or exterior critics. There’s too much value in both. But they have to be reined in until the right time to let them loose.
My interior critic is my own best assessment of the work I’m doing. Without her, I’d let some pretty awful sentences slip into my writing. Or I’d let a paragraph go like the one I found this morning in first draft work-in-progress that was peppered with the word, “When.” After about the third one, my critic refused to be quiet. I let her have her way at that moment, but then I put her back in the chamber of my brain where she waits until I’m done with first draft, and closed the door.
Mostly when I’m writing first draft, I keep her quiet, promising she can have her way liberally when I’m done. If I listened to her on first draft, I’d be stuck with a manuscript that had lovely, polished sentences, but dull ideas. My inner critic doesn’t have much patience for ideas. She’s a detail person. With her kept in her little chamber, I can write all the crazy sentences I want, because what I’m wanting is for the ideas to flow.
Sometimes I look back on a day’s work and think, “What were my characters nattering on about?” What I’ve found from experienceis that if I let them go on long enough, they’ll lead me to something I didn’t know about the scene. I suppose I could sit around and think those things through, but it feels more organic to the process to let my characters have their way. And oddly, when I go back and look at those passages, it’s often only a line or two that needs to be removed or reworded. If my inner critic had had her way too early, the characters would have had only a line or two, and not led me, and my readers, to something deeper.
My exterior critics, plural, are those people who take the time to say exactly what they did and didn’t like about my book. It’s best to wait until I feel pretty sure of what I’m doing before I have an exterior critic chime in. And I do have to remember to be true to my vision, even if sometimes a critic doesn’t get it.
But sometimes I don’t pay enough attention. In reading reviews of my debut novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, there was one particular character that a few people mentioned as not being rounded enough. Sadly, one of the publishers who turned down the book had mentioned the same thing, and I didn’t listen. Not a major character and not a major problem, but boy did I learn from the experience! It’s important to listen to exterior critics and not just blow them off. There’s a balance of listening too much or too little, but that’s a balance the writer has to find for herself.
It’s always nice to get little thrills from an interior or exterior critic that say, “Wow, this is pretty darn good.” It’s harder to get a thrill from the negative—but I wouldn’t silence them for anything. They are teaching me valuable lessons.