When writing fiction, writers are forced to consider the protagonist and his or her agenda. We need to ask what our hero's goals are and where they want to end up as people.Now usually, there is an antagonist whose desire to thwart the hero's goals is at least as strong, if not stronger than the hero's.
But what about writers? Who is our main antagonist?
Alas - usually ourselves.
When it comes to writing, there's that little guy inside your head who wants to criticize - endlessly. His voice reminds you constantly that you have no special talent, that your writing is average at best, and that you should never, ever show your work to anyone because, well, it's crap.
Helpful little fella. And to think, he lives inside of us!
Suppressing the inner critic is a necessary part of the writing process. If we couldn't silence the little rascal, we'd never write anything. Indeed many writers get stuck on page one because they can't ignore the nagging doubts the inner critic has no qualms about repeating and reinforcing every time they sit down and write.
Much of my teaching is about dealing with your internal critic because I think, especially for the first draft, he's not very helpful. The inner critic's job comes later, after the main thrust of the story is down - from beginning to end.
Because one of the main problems with the inner critic is that he stops you from finishing anything. I know many writers who never finish anything because the critic takes over their thinking before they get anywhere near the end of their stories or pieces. Not good.
Disastrous in fact.
It gets worse.
Because even after you've completed your work, polished it, worked hard and let yourself believe you have created something of value, the critic is still there.
You have the submission envelope in your hand, ready. But he's waiting by the door, arms folded, foot tapping, looking at you with that nasty smug expression, saying, "You've not actually going to send that out are you?"
And you're forced to wonder:
Just how embarrassing would it be to send this out?
Just how bad is my writing?
What will people think of it?
What will people think of me?
None of which is helpful to you - or your potential career.
Well, there's hope. Because the fact is, it doesn't matter how far you get, that inner critic never goes away. So while you can consult with him on technical issues and listen to his advice sometimes, you really just have to shut him up, lock him away in the shed, when the time comes to submitting.
You need to develop a brave and cavalier attitude towards your work once it's done. Get it out there.
What's the worse that can happen?
You get rejected. So what? Join the ranks of the writer. We all get rejected all the time, for all the wrong reasons - and only occasionally for the right ones!
I remember a story from the music business (my favorite sources of anecdotes) about Marianne Faithful. She was a pop star in the sixties and had a fling with Mick Jagger if memory serves. Well, at one point she was making a comeback single with the Pet Shop Boys and got very angry with herself during the vocal take.
In the studio, she started crying, beating herself up for being less than perfect. At which point Neil Tennant said to her, "Hey Marianne, get it together, it's only a song."
There's a lesson here. Your submission is only a story. You might attach all kinds of significance to it but, really, it's just another bunch of words that, if you never send them out, are not going to be read - or missed.
So again, what's the worst that can happen?
If you get rejected, write some more. Send those words out instead. Any successful writer will tell you that the more you send out the luckier you seem to get. And better probably, simply because you will not give up.
You don't have to be superb anymore. You don't have to be literary. You just have to be out there.
You have to catch the tide of popularity - and find your own fans.
They're out there. Waiting for you.
You just gotta believe it.
(C) Rob Parnell