If you’ve stumbled upon this article, I’d venture to guess that, like many of us creative types, you struggle with your inner critic. I received an email from a reader recently who asked about this subject and since have heard from several more readers who wonder if it’s a good idea to silence your inner critic or if there’s ever a cause to listen to it.
First of all, I don’t want to come across as The Source about this subject; we each have such different journeys that we’re on when it comes to creativity. But I do have to admit that even though we’re on different paths, they do have a way of intersecting in many ways. Maybe some of these thoughts that I’ve been learning along the way will be helpful to you.
So let’s get started . . .
When to Silence Your Inner Critic
When you’re beginning a project. You set up the watercolor paints, have a piece of paper in front of you, and make the first stroke. “Ugh! That looks terrible!” you immediately think. A couple blops more and you push the paper aside. “I knew I’d be awful at painting; why do I keep on setting myself up for disaster?” you wonder.
Maybe you really want to be more creative and you want to try something new but your first attempts are always bad. Like, really bad.
Well, before you cross creativity off your list (or cross a particular creative technique off), ask yourself why you’re trying this. Is it because you want to finally find the one thing that will make you rich and famous? Or is it because you enjoy creative expression and thought this would be something fun to try? I can’t help you with the rich and famous part but if you’re just wanting to create, then by all means, go for it!
Often we start down the path of learning to create with the expectation that we will instantly be amazing at it, and when we’re not, the old inner critic rears it’s ugly head and tells us the lie that we should stop trying. This is a prime example of when to silence your inner critic.
Say it out loud if you must, but silence it! “Hey, I’m having fun here–leave me alone!” Whatever works. Don’t let your inner critic get in the way of creatively expressing yourself. You need this. Really, you do.
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When I’m first starting a project, I don’t let myself “go there” by self-editing right away. This goes for writing as well as art-making. Critiquing my work at such an early stage is counter-productive. It is better to get the idea out and then go back and look at it again. Sometimes (many times!) I am just creating for myself and because it gives me joy. I’ll notice things I could have done better but oh well, I’ll do better next time.
When you’re sharing with a group. Okay, this one is hard. I think many of us feel awkward about sharing our work, especially when we’re just starting out. If our project looks really good, we feel compelled to point out the mistakes. We don’t want people to think we’re too uppity. Or maybe when we look at everyone else’s work, we see a huge discrepancy between our level of experience and their’s and feel terrible about our own attempt.
In cases where you’re sharing for something like an online group or a creative challenge, there is no reason to be critical of your work. The purpose is to be actively creating. The act itself, the actual taking-the-time-to-make-art and making it a priority is the win, not the excellence of the piece produced. So make your projects and share them. You can do this. Just keep that inner critic in check.
Is Being Critical Ever Okay?
The word, “critical” conjurs all kinds of negative emotions for me so maybe we could change this question to, “Is it ever a good idea to get a critique or ask an editor for help?” And my answer to that question is a resounding YES. Here are a couple of places where a critique will end up being the best thing for you and your project:
- You are taking a class and learning a new technique. The teacher is there to assist and guide you in this new territory. Listen to them and be willing to apply their advice. They’re not trying to demean your worth, and are certainly not against you as a person. Listening to them makes your work stronger.
- You would like to sell your project. Whether you’ve written an eBook, designed a website for the first time, or made a piece of jewelry, you will help your product immensely by placing it in the hands of an editor or teacher. This might come as an expense on your part but it is a necessary one. You are too close to the work and will not see obvious mistakes. In some cases, as you refine your craft over the years you will find you don’t need to have someone check your work as often. (When it comes to writing, I’d always recommend an editor. Mine was invaluable when creating The Creative Retreat workbook.)
A side note here about those you ask to edit your work. In most cases, I would warn against asking your family and friends for help. They love you and don’t want to hurt you. And in many cases, they don’t have the expertise anyway to be of true help. I’ve found this to be the case in many groups I’ve been a part of online; on one hand, I’m grateful people are nice, but it doesn’t help me if everyone says everything looks amazing when it is full of typos and design errors. That said, if you’re writing, I highly suggest putting aside budget to hire an editor. If you’re creating, ask a teacher or someone who is a professional. I know, it’s much more difficult to ask someone who knows what they’re doing, but you’ll be so grateful.
Above All Else, Be Nice
My inner critic can be so mean. I’ll start sketching something in my journal and out she comes like she got up on the wrong side of the bed, “Yuck, that’s terrible!” “You’re not going to show that to anyone, right?” As you can see, the words of an inner critic are not that helpful. What in the world am I supposed to do with thoughts like those? Well, as I look at it, I either let them shut me down or I shut them down.
When you’re tempted to be tough on yourself when it comes to creativity, ask yourself if you’d say those things to a little child who was just learning how to draw. Of course you wouldn’t. So be nice to yourself and give yourself lots of grace. Not one of us is born competent at making artwork or any sort of creative act. Even those we consider prodigies have to practice daily at their craft.
I think it’s so important that we make creativity a priority and keep that inner critic’s voice at a distance. It doesn’t do us any good, and it doesn’t do the world any good, because each of us have something to share.
Every time I wish to write, I have to quiet my inner critic. The horrible feeling of “who do I think I am?”. I suspect most creative types have this problem. The need for perfection muddies the joy of creating. Nice article. 🙂
Thanks, Teri! That perfection monster gets so many of us, doesn’t it? When I actually pull myself out of it, I always find it ironic since not one of us is perfect. I love how you wrote, “The need for perfection muddles the joy of creating.” So well said.
So encouraging! I’ve got a post lined up for tomorrow on the vulnerability of creativity. It’s scary and hard to do something new, creative, or different. I think that cutting ourselves some slack is a good thing in these situations. But as you mentioned, there is a time for critiquing as well. It’s all about balance.
Thanks, Grace. I so agree about the balance part. Can’t wait to see your post. Would you mind emailing me the link when it goes live?
I find myself so wrapped up in getting everything perfect that I tend to not do get anything accomplished. Sometimes I can just do it and work through my block. Sometimes I have to put the project on time out and return at a later time.
Oh my goodness, I have totally put my projects on time out, though I’ve never said it quite so eloquently. 🙂 Love that. Thanks for sharing your insight, Rachee.
Great post! I particularly appreciate the distinction between “critique” and “criticism.” Critique helps us grow and improve; criticism usually just makes us feel crummy about ourselves. Only one of those is useful!
Well said, Brittany! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂
😉 Awesome advice. Thanks!!!!!
Thanks so much, Ashley! 🙂
Such an important topic! I would venture to guess everyone’s inner critic gets in the way of their creativity. Mind tends to prevent me from starting projects, it makes me hesitate and think too much. So I try to just start on a project with a small step, and the momentum/my confidence builds from there.
Great post! I just discovered your blog via the Building a Framework facebook group and I’m now thinking I’m going to love getting to know you and your blog better. Also, a creative retreat sounds fantastic. I will probably be purchasing your workbook in the near future. Looking forward to getting to know you and your blog better!
Hi Emily! Thanks so much for your sweet comment. So nice to meet you too! 🙂 I totally hear you about hesitating on projects because I’m over-thinking it. I stopped by your blog and love how you take thrifted finds and make them amazing. You’re doing beautiful work! 🙂 Hope you have a great rest-of-the-weekend! 🙂
Just discovered your Blog and have to say I like it alot.
As Teri already wrote, this special feelings comes up to the surface. It is like yelling at me that I am so selfcentered to think anyone would care about my kind of art.
I am so relieved to read that there are many more creatives suffering from their inner critic being mean and still achive their artsy goals. So thanks alot for this article!
Thanks so much for your comment, Annie! Yes, you are definitely not the only one–many creatives have this ongoing ‘battle’ in their minds. The key is to know how to deal with it and I think it helps too to know I’m not alone. 🙂 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful day!
When I think about it, I realize my inner critic has never stopped me cold, but it has helped me refine my projects. I’ve found my critic has a very discerning eye and that working WITH it instead of against it has actually helped a lot. I believe whether your inner critic stops you or not depends on the emotion driving its little critic car. Is it coming from a place of love and constructive criticism, or from a place of fear? The more toxic and debilitating my critic gets, the more I realize it’s coming from a place of fear. Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) says she likes to work with her fear, because it’s actually a very productive tool. Its job is to ensure our survival, and when we take on creative projects that mean a whole lot to us, fear doesn’t separate that project from life because…well, dreams, projects, desires, these are the things that create our lives. They come from us and forge circumstance. Fear understands that our projects are precious and it wants to keep us from being socially rejected, which really is akin to death for a creative. I think the key is to recognize what our fear-based inner critic is up to and simply to tell it, “Thanks for looking out, but I got this. It’s just a [insert creative project here] and I’m gonna be fine. In fact, I’m gonna be great!”
I guess I had to learn to make friends with my inner critic! :-p
I LOVE your insight, Nichole. Yes, knowing what your inner critic is up to is so valuable. I agree that sometimes it does have helpful input (i.e., “try this instead—you’re not quite there yet”). . . but when it gets into the fear game, I need to do as you mentioned and pat it on the head as I keep going. Thank you so very much for your comment!
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