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.
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.