“Life is messy, but you don’t have to be.” I’m not sure that’s actually a quote from somewhere, but if it’s not, it should be. When it comes to my life, I am above and beyond my own worst critic. I want things perfect and organized and shiny and bright, and anything less than that feels like utter failure. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there may be a level of self-hate that I’m a bit guilty of. That’s a reality that isn’t going to change any time soon, either, and nor do I want it to. Well, not entirely, at least.
Criticism comes in two flavors: constructive and destructive. When people talk about being their own worst critic as a bad thing, they’re most likely acknowledging the latter type of criticism. Must the two be mutually exclusive? If you are your own worst critic, can’t that be a benefit if refocused in a healthy manner?
Refocus Your Inner Critic
“Oh my gosh. Writing this book was such a waste of my life. All the time I lost doing this, I could have been doing something else. Oh my. Think of all the time I lost with… If I’d been working more hours instead of pretending to be a writer, I’d have made…” The chain of thoughts goes on and on. So back up and give a little life to characters Constructive and Destructive, shall we? Let’s just play this out a bit…
Destructive: “Oh my gosh. Writing this book was such a waste of my life.”
Constructive: “Okay. I agree. So the book is bad.”
Destructive: “Bad?? It’s terrible! Utterly horrendous. I can’t even–”
Constructive: “Okay. Great. So, what’s bad about it?
Destructive: “Everything! Absolutely everything is–”
Constructive: “Fine. So, let’s break that down into parts. What elements make up a book?”
Destructive: “You’re an idiot. If you knew that, this wouldn’t be so bad.”
Constructive: “So, I guess we need to look up what elements go into a book.”
Destructive: “Yeah. Good idea, Stupid. Let’s waste more time on this piece of–”
Constructive: “Hey! Can you shut up a moment? I’m trying to think. Stop being a part of the problem and start being part of the solution.”
Destructive: *splashes water into the face of Constructive*
…Oh. Wait. I think I’ve digressed.
Let’s just keep going and pretend that didn’t happen.
Destructive: “Yeah. Good idea, Stupid. Let’s waste more time…”
Constructive: “Giving up would be a waste of all the time spent writing. Moving forward and taking the next step toward success is never a waste of time.”
Destructive: “Fine. I guess you just know everything, right?”
Constructive: “No, but I do know where to look for the answers. Okay, so let’s see. What makes up the elements of a book? We’ll outline those and then narrow down what we think is making the book weak.”
You can see where this is going: Acknowledge that you think something is wrong and then force it into manageable elements.
To shift your focus, you don’t need to pretend like the deconstructive part of you isn’t there. You need to acknowledge the deconstructive thoughts and use them to guide you to place where you can turn your critical thoughts into constructive criticism.
Remind Yourself You’re Not Alone
One of the most amazing characteristics about the writing community is that we can all be so overwhelmingly jealous of one another, desperately strive to reach the same (or similar) goal, and yet, we all love each other. I mean, we truly, deeply seem to love and care about one another. Part of me thinks that’s because we’re all so sensitive to others (we are people observers, after all), and part of me thinks that’s because, deep down, we feel like we’re all in this to lose together… and misery loves company. Ha! Okay, so I don’t really think that, but it played out so nicely, I couldn’t help but keep going with it.
What about you? Who is your worst critic, and do you refocus that criticism into something positive, or do you turn elsewhere for reinforcement and strength?