Writing and The Inner Critic

There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.

~ Haruki Murakami

I am a self proclaimed perfectionist, though I have spent the better part of my life trying to dismantle the harmful aspects of this particular trait. After all, it’s not something I cultivated, it’s how I came into the world. And so you can well imagine how challenging it is to simply capture ideas and experiences and release them into locution without the Censor’s head over my shoulder nodding or tsk-ing, depending.

origin of image unknown

I remember a creative course at Vermont College some years back – where we were required to actively engage expression in an artists’ journal. In fact I came across this little black book just the other day. It was shocking to note just how tight my words and images were compared to the present, how inauthentic in their dance with caution. And it was refreshing too, recognizing how far I’ve come with regards to loosening up in order to reveal more of myself to the reader. I still remember my dear professor, a genuinely supportive woman who proclaimed us all artists, whether we believed it or not. I did not, at least in the realm of the written word.

I knew I was an artist from early on, as I’ve always been able to depict a likeness in pastel. Considering writing as art was intimidating, for it touched on my vulnerability as a wordsmith. I had never taken a writing course, ever – I was too afraid of being criticized for a necessary and enjoyable endeavor. There was serious and there was pleasurable, and never the two should meet! Happily fear itself had never prevented me from writing – which I have done consistently throughout my life. (Let it be noted I wrote mostly poetry, allowing me to hide neatly behind metaphor as a child disappears behind the shaggy trunk of an old hemlock.) Meanwhile this teacher encouraged a free-flow of ideas and images, whether clipped from magazines or culled from our own heads. I didn’t fully grasp the deconstruction process until much later, witnessed through years of journaling in pencil with many erasures and careful rewording.

Thankfully my journals of today are messy – scribbled and replete with crossed-out mots and margin notes. I have finally allowed myself to record ideas as they flow from my mind, (mostly) minus the Censor.  I’ll admit though, and I know I’m not the only one, that when I post on WordPress and hit that “Publish” button, errors I hadn’t seen before pop up like caddis flies hatching on a still pond. Suddenly I’m “Updating,” hoping nobody picks out the adjective I’ve used twice in the same small paragraph. I guess perfectionism can never truly be eradicated, for it does retain favorable aspects. I still strive to produce a body of words that flows nicely and musically onto paper, delighting the reader not only with intriguing ideas but with the beauty of our splendiferous English language. It, and you, dear reader deserve no less.

image: flyfishingfromscratch.com

18 thoughts on “Writing and The Inner Critic

  1. Once I meet a teacher, he says ” English is the most flexible language in the earth, it can borrow any word, it follows the word for lifetime!” There are a few language in the world you can hardly find a large options of vocabulary. I too didn’t attend any course on writing and my mother language is Bengali and my National language is Hindi. Both of the languages are developed from Sanskrit. But the flexibility in English language gives me all kind of freedom in expressions. The experience is something musical. Nice topic here you have started. Thanks! 🙂

    1. And thanks for your own posts, Vikram! I get such a kick out of the material you choose to write about.
      Now that’s funny – I always think my friends from India have the most beautiful, musical way of speaking. But yes, the English language is very complex, and intriguing in that complexity. Now if only those who speak it as a first language would learn to use it respectfully and well, instead of reducing it to trite cult phrases and acronyms …
      We’ve even come to this: they’re going to stop teaching cursive (hand) writing in the schools – it’s considered superfluous, as keyboarding is more in vogue.
      Thanks for your comments.

  2. Hi Bela,

    What a lovely and mind opening post. It resonates in a way that I get this uncanny feeling that you have done this, been there regarding my inner thoughts. That censor, that voice within has been such a game spoiler for me for most of my life. Its only been lately that I have learnt to counter him. And I do this by simply noticing him and what he says at all those inopportune moments. And in that spotlight he seems to shrink.

    Thank you bringing this great perspective to the fore with your usual elan’.



    1. Thanks so much, Shakti. Glad it provided that feeling of being understood. I can definitely be my own worst critic, but the flip side is that I strive for integrity. It’s just always a challenge to relax a bit more, to realize I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant all the time.

  3. “a body of words that flows nicely and musically onto paper, delighting the reader not only with intriguing ideas but with the beauty of our splendiferous English language” And you do it so well, Bela. Consistently. Keep the inner critic alive. As long as she doesn’t get too bossy!

  4. Wow, what an eye-opening post! Nice topic indeed. You write so well Bela. Always inspiring… 🙂 🙂


  5. Perfectionist also. Double edged sword. And I hate to think how my inner critic has kept me from writing too often. Luckily, I’m getting cagier. And find, if I JUST sit down . . . and write, I connect to my true self.

    1. Aloha Alethea, and thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

      For every positive, there is a negative, and vice versa. At least that’s how I see it – and I think physics bears me out. Thus accepting my gifts along with my faults seems the best approach – but those old patterns! Yikes! 😉

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