Embracing Creativity: 4 Ways I Tamed my Inner Critic
R · E · S · T · O · R · A · T · I · O · N. The process of finding what has been lost; of rebuilding what has been destroyed. This is the word I chose to declare over myself in the year that has been 2019. I stripped away the expectation of achievement that came with New Year's resolutions and chose a word to grow into and bloom out of.
Part of my emotional and physical restoration from acute mental illnesses has been reframing my creative process when I make art. A critical aspect of this has been bringing my focus into the middle ground. For me, this means pulling away from the extremes that my personality gravitates to and swings between. It's either "I'm gonna bust out a novel in a month!" or "If I can't finish this novel in a month, there's no point in writing it at all." It's this all-or-nothing mindset that has suffocated my creativity in the past, as I have allowed my inner critic to dictate my creative choices. It thrives on the attitude, "Go hard or go home!". It likes to present these acts of self-sabotage as necessary in retaining my "artistic dignity" (an ugly combination of pride and self-preservation). Now, when I notice my inner critic resisting the exploration of my ideas, I make a point of exploring them. Doing this challenges the fear that what I have to offer is worthless and inadequate.
One of the catalysts for this radical shift in mindset was the timely words an acquaintance said to me this year: "Embrace the average!". Without context, this advice seems uninspired and an excuse to live a half-baked life. However, for me, this advice has become my mantra as it confronts my obsession with perfection, which inhibits my creative process. "Embracing the average" replaces a black and white world to encompass a myriad of colours and textures unavailable to me in an all-or-nothing mindset. I am learning to make imperfection my friend, and in doing so, I have stumbled upon my most beautiful mistakes when creating.
This is not to bad-mouth my inner critic, whose judgments I have come to realise are (at the appropriate times) an invaluable contribution to my creative process. I don't allow my inner critic more airtime than it deserves, but I do give it the spotlight at specific points in the process. For example, its critiques are useful when it comes to streamlining and structuring my ideas post "brain dump." My inner critic is also very good at ruthlessly sniffing out imperfections in the fine-tuning part of the process. Choosing to wield my perfectionistic qualities to my advantage helps me to develop art that I can be proud of.
I am still navigating the boundaries I have with my inner critic, but I can honestly say its voice no longer rules my life with its shoulds and musts. If, like me, you have battled the dictatorial voice of your inner critic, I hope the following insights can be of use to you.
- Let it speak! I acknowledge the critiques of my inner critic, but just like the chatterbox in the class who has too much to say, I say to my inner critic, "I hear you. Thanks for your input. I will keep your suggestions in mind." My responses to my inner critic are firm but fair. This draws on my previous point - I give my inner critic some airtime, but not more than it deserves.
- Channel your Stream of Consciousness: For 10 minutes, I like to give myself full permission to create unadulterated nonsense. I write down everything that comes into my head without judgment, with no filter. My inner critic often pipes up, saying, "But this line doesn't make any sense!" or "This line bears no relation to the last!" To this, I tell my inner critic to come back later when it's time to structure and streamline my ideas - and not before.
- The No-Erase Rule: When writing, I will not erase anything. Are my pages almost unreadable? Yes, but I'm the only one who needs to read them! I often put a line through ideas that I have decided aren't fitting for a particular piece of work; still, I try to treat these ideas as valuable. Perhaps these ideas morph themselves into a creation of their own. Or maybe they won't. Perhaps I need to get these ideas out of my system so that I can stumble upon the gold.
- The Productivity Paradox: I like to play a little game with my inner critic. It goes like this: each of my failures are, in fact, achievements; one more obstacle that I have overcome, thus one step closer to my end product. Naturally, spending countless hours re-working and re-shaping a piece of work that may not even be 'useful' tends to grind the gears of my inner critic. So, to turn the tables, I frame 'failures' as necessary roadblocks. I wouldn't be able to produce art of high quality if I hadn't acknowledged the failures that came before. I also believe that rest is a critical part of the creative process. Though rest does not seem synonymous with productivity, I have found that it is in idle times that inspiration will come to me. Once my brain has had time to mull over my initial ideas, my creativity revives itself. For me, taking regular rests is what sustains my creative process.
My inner critic tries to stop me from creating, and now in defiance, I say, "I will CREATE ANYWAY." The creative process is non-linear, which makes my inner critic wriggle and squirm. It attempts to convince me it's easier to go hard or go home. However, for me, restoration is about finding a middle ground, thus making imperfection my ally. In my redefined creative process, I am becoming reacquainted with myself, since my identity is no longer obscured by illness. I am painting new colours on the walls of my mind, learning to laugh in the face of mistakes and finding rest in the chaos.
Find me on Instagram @madeleineworsley to follow my bursts of creativity!