Turning Your Inner Critic into an Inner Coach … and Growing Your Writing Confidence

28 Mar 2024 | Confidence

Turning Your Inner Critic into an Inner Coach … and Growing Your Writing Confidence

Have you come across the idea of an “inner critic” before?

For writers, the inner critic is that little voice inside your head that criticises your writing.

That could be on a big picture scale, with your inner critic telling you things like you’re not good enough or you’ll never make it as a writer.

Your inner critic can also show up in a much more nitpicky way, nudging you as you’re drafting to say that sentence is clunky or would your character really do that?

A number of years ago, I wrote about working with your inner critic … but I now think that an even better way to approach this is to think about how you might transform your inner critic.

I think we all have some kind of inner critic. Some writers struggle with this more than others, but we’ve all had the experience of judging our own work harshly, or talking to ourselves far more unkindly than we’d talk to a writing friend.

What Different Writers Say About the Inner Critic

There are lots of different ways you might experience or describe your inner critic. Here are a few perspectives to consider:

Do you have an inner critic? That little voice in your head that whispers in your ear as you write… chipping away at your confidence… making you second guess yourself… scattering seeds of doubt and fear through every paragraph you write… resulting in the ‘delete’ key being the most used key on your keyboard!

– Darren Rowse, How to Deal with Your Blogging ‘Inner Critic’, ProBlogger

I used to get angry and try to shut that part of me down. There are countless articles on silencing or removing that inner critic. But I try to be thankful now, and gentle. I talk to that part of myself, something like this:

Thank you for helping me to be critical in the editing process, but right now, I need some time to play and be creative. I need you to rest, but please come back when I’m done and you can help me with the next part.

– Joanna Penn, The Writer’s Inner Critic, The Creative Penn

There are some days when I open up an older rough draft of a story I worked on several months ago, assuming it will be terrible, only to see that it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

When I was studying creative writing, some days I would take what I thought was a perfectly written piece to a workshop session, only for it to be torn apart by my tutor and fellow students. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether my inner critic is right or wrong.

– Jessica Wood, When You Should Listen to Your Inner Critic (and When You Shouldn’t), Craft Your Content

When the inner critic is healthy, it is not a “voice in your head”—it is you.

The toxic inner critic, however, is often a projection—an aspect of ourselves we’ve tried to separate into our “not-selves.”

  • The toxic inner editor may take on the voice of an early authority figure whose criticism shaped you.
  • It might take on the voice of a recent editor or critique partner.
  • Or, simply, it might present itself in the guise of “your readers” (who, in this instance, seem a very hard bunch to please).

– K.M. Weiland, The Writer’s Inner Critic: 11 Ways to Tell if Yours is Healthy, Helping Writers Become Authors

Whether you want to view your inner critic as yourself, as one aspect of yourself, or as something external, is entirely up to you.

I find it helps to view my inner critic as an inner coach – a supportive part of myself helping me to be the best I can be – and that’s the framing I’m going to use in this article. But if you’ve got a different perspective, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Cultivating Your Inner Coach

I have a real-life coach (not just an imaginary one in my head!) called Blake Stratton.

One of the things I love about checking in with Blake each week and about our monthly coaching calls is that he’s always so encouraging and supportive. But he also offers suggestions about things that I’m feeling stuck on. He might have a new way to think about something or a different angle to approach it from.

That’s what I’d love you to have from your inner coach: a perfect blend of encouragement, acknowledgement, and helpful ideas.

So how can you get there? Here are a few things that might help.

Acknowledge the Value of Your Inner Critic

All the writers I quoted above see value in their inner critic, particularly at the editing stage of a project.

Your inner critic isn’t necessarily a cruel voice. It might be trying to save you from worries and make life easier for you. Sometimes, it gets that wrong (telling you “it’s too risky to share your work”) … but sometimes, it makes genuinely helpful suggestions (like “this character feels a bit two-dimensional”).

To transform your inner critic into a more helpful and supportive inner coach, you might find it’s useful to first acknowledge what you like about that critical voice. Really, this is about understanding your own ability to evaluate your writing and to self-edit your work.

Rewrite the Things Your Inner Critic Says

A huge part of writing (sometimes the biggest part!) is rewriting … and you can rewrite what your inner critic says, too.

Perhaps you’re reading over a chapter you wrote a week ago before you start drafting the next one, and your inner critic pipes up with:

Ugh. What a horribly convoluted sentence. No one’s going to want to read that.

Not the most encouraging thing to hear, right? But there’s a different perspective hidden here. How about rewriting (in your head, or even on paper) what your inner critic says so it’s more supportive:

You’re getting your ideas down so fast in this first draft. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later, to make sure it’s easy for readers to engage with.

Think about how you’d phrase your feedback to a writing friend who’s showing you their first draft.

I’m sure you wouldn’t be harsh and critical. Instead, you’d encourage them. You’d look for what they were doing well and – if they were open to it – you might offer some gentle suggestions for the next draft.

Write Down the Things You Want to Say to Yourself

Is there anything you’d like to tell yourself in your moments of doubt or at times when you’re feeling low and discouraged?

Maybe you want to tell yourself:

  • You’re doing a great job of making time for your writing … and sticking to it.
  • This was a really tough week, but you still managed to fit in some writing. Well done!
  • You were really brave sending that story off for a competition. That’s a huge step.

These might be things that we wish someone else would say to us: a partner, a friend, or even a fellow writer. But it’s completely valid to say them to ourselves. 

It might feel unnatural or even strangely self-indulgent at first … but try to give yourself the acknowledgement you wish you had, and actually write down what you want to say.

Other people can’t always see the effort we put into our writing. And even when they do, they may not know how best to support us.

Some writers like to use affirmations: positive statements that they can repeat day after day. I used to think affirmations were a bit weird or hokey, but you don’t have to use an affirmation that feels wrong for you – you can come up with whatever you like.

I was inspired by Jon Acuff’s book Soundtracks to write a bunch of affirmations for myself (he calls these “soundtracks” and you might prefer that term). I read through them most mornings and evenings and they help me to feel in a good frame of mind for the day.

Hold a Conversation With Your Inner Coach

I came across this technique from Mark Foster, many years ago. He talks about having a dialogue with your “future self” – and in fact, the whole of his book How to Make Your Dreams Come True is written in this way.

Essentially, you write out what you’re struggling with, and answer as your imagined future self – someone who isn’t necessarily perfect, but who’s a lot further along the path to your goals than you currently are.

Here’s a short example. You could do as much back-and-forth as you want:

Me: “I feel like I’m stuck – that I’m not growing as a writer.”

Inner coach: “That sounds frustrating. Can you tell me more about that feeling?”

Me: “All the writing I do is very same-y. I’m not pushing myself to try anything new … but I don’t feel that I have the time to spend on something that might not work out.”

Inner coach: “Could you have a bit of time each week for something more experimental? Maybe picking one writing session to have fun with?”

Me: “I think I could do that, yeah.”

It’s not an approach I use often, but it can be really powerful for pushing through times when you’re struggling.

Working With Your Inner Coach May Feel Strange at First

When you first start trying to work with your inner coach (rather than simply trying to ignore your inner critic), it might feel odd.

Perhaps it even seems like a weird or embarrassing approach, to have a conversation with yourself … though let’s face it, that’s pretty much what we’re doing every time we write. 😉

Remember, no one will be listening in to the conversations inside your head – and if you write down something that feels too vulnerable, you can always delete it (or burn it!)

We’re all so used to having that negative voice inside us, you might find that it’s tricky to tune in and fully notice what it’s saying.

Maybe it just seems like a vague, off-putting background drone of discouragement.

But I think even if you can’t quite pinpoint your inner critic’s voice, you can still start working with your inner coach instead.

You could start in a really small way – perhaps by choosing one positive statement you want to read over at the start of each writing session. (Joanna Penn uses, “I am creative. I am an author.)

If you want to go a little further, you could keep a blank sheet of paper with you when you’re writing, so you can jot down anything your inner critic says. Then, you can look at ways to come up with something more positive.

I’d love to hear how you feel about your inner critic: how you view it, and what’s worked for you to find the positive side of this internal voice. Drop a comment below to share your thoughts.

About

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

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