This prompt addresses your inner critic directly. I have found personifying this voice in our heads is helpful as writers, mainly because we can laugh at the absurdity of what this voice sometimes gets away with saying. And although I’ve done this exercise for years with my writing groups, recently I’ve been encouraging them to think of this exercise as a kind of exorcism, a way to disempower this beast.
First, I read this out loud:
You open the door, and there he or she is: the voice inside you personified. The one who tells you that you can’t write, have no talent, shouldn’t bother, are making a fool of yourself.
In this exercise, I want you to externalize your inner critic: introduce us to him or her by showing us what he or she looks like, sounds like, acts like. Have a conversation with your critic. Give us a little bit of dialogue (or a lot of dialogue!). Let us see, hear, smell this character who is a part of your writing life: the one who throws up roadblocks, who deflates your enthusiasm, who has nothing nice to say and says it anyway.
In this exercise, go all out. Show us the whole picture. Make us laugh, make us cry, allow an exorcism; let us have a conversation with this demon. We’ll wrestle with it too. We’ll flip him off. We’ll rebuff her.
(What I wrote in response is below. It surprised me, because one of my muses showed up to help me out.)
She leaves me alone most mornings until 10:00.
“You’re already running behind,” she says, looking at her sensible Timex. “You’re going to have to let go of finishing a few things if you want to make it to work on time today.”
The bitch is back. All dressed up and ready to go since 7:00 a.m.; she’s already been working on her new manuscript for two hours. She’s had her black coffee and a soft-boiled egg, one slice of whole wheat toast (jam, no butter), and half a pomelo.
“No time to type up your next blog post. You don’t get those published very often, do you?” She’s wearing the Rebozo she bought in Puebla, and her silver filagree earrings from Kerala, where she took a sabattical to write her last novel.
“I average once a week,” I lie, sipping my cold tea. I’ve been grading student essays for 90 minutes; I’m still in my sweatpants and angry dog t-shirt.
“Really?” she says, pulling out her iPhone 6, tapping the screen. “It says here you only posted once in February.”
“You’re visiting my blog?” My stomach growls loudly. “Are you borrowing the prompts?” She laughs.
“No, dear. I just click on it here and there when I need some light, mindless reading.”
“I’ve published some pieces on there I’m proud of,” I say, feeling a little defiant.
“Oh, yes. All those melodramas about your poor, dead mommy. You do pathos so well.”
“Fuck you,” I say.
“Oh! Did I touch a nerve?”
“You’re extra nasty today,” I say. “Isn’t a little early?”
“It’s nearly 10:15,” she snaps. “Real published authors, professors of English with PhD’s in literature and three-book contracts, have already written 2000 words and have answered all their emails. And what have you done?”
“Yoga,” I say, pushing past her and her $125 haircut. “And I’ve graded eight essays.”
“Oh, yes,” she says, “you’re doing such a service to the community teaching composition. It’s such a noble profession, part-time teaching.” She’s hit all the buttons this morning, but I’m too tired to engage her anymore.
“Please leave,” I say, putting a piece of whole grain bread into the toaster oven. She sits down at the dining room table, picks up one of the essays I’ve just graded.
“He has a learning disability,” I say, hands on my hips. I feel protective of Shawn, remember how hard he worked through four drafts, pushing through his embarrassment, his negative self-talk.
“And that’s your excuse for supporting grade inflation? I mean—”
“Who the hell are you?” We both turn to see my inner adolescent coming through the front door with daffodils. My inner critic is thrown off for a moment, but she catches on quickly.
“You must be the little dreamer,” she sighs. “What a treat. See?” She sweeps her hand from me to him. “This is the reason you are still thinking about writing a book and not publishing one.” My inner adolescent approaches her.
“You smell bad,” he says.
“This is your future inner voice,” I say, introducing him to her evilness. “Your inner demon, all dressed up like a professor.”
He looks her up and down.
“You’re just an old hippie,” he says, “a snooty old hag in stupid clothes.”
“I beg your—”
“You’re a—you’re just a mouse!” he says. “You’re nothing but a mouse!” It’s an incantation, because then POOF! She turns into a little grey mouse, running away from us. My inner adolescent stomps his foot; the little mouse jumps, then squeezes herself under the door.
“She’ll be back,” I say. He shrugs, hands me the flowers.
“This is for the progress you made last week on your cookbook manuscript. You’re almost done, you know that, right?”
The bell dings on the toaster, and we both smile.