“Your first act of mutiny against your inner critic …”
Remember when you were little and would scribble a big blob of yellow on a page and call it a tiger, then hand it to an adult who would proclaim it the most beautiful giraffe in the world and pin it on the refrigerator? No? Likely it’s because the squashing of creativity with rules started so early.
“Tigers’ heads aren’t so high, you should make its neck shorter. Oh, and stripes. Don’t forget to add stripes.”
As toddlers we probably found ourselves in front of coloring books with a box of crayons and a well-intentioned adult hovering over and chiding us to stay inside the lines. Our masterpieces were never quite right; not even the glorious 64-count box with a built-in sharpener in the back contained enough magic to satisfy the critics. Eventually we no longer needed someone else’s “eye” and developed an inner critic, becoming hypercritical of our abilities and of ourselves. We have not only forgotten how good it feels to simply create without limitations, we have become terrified to even try.
And so it is with writing.
Author and Writing Coach Christi Krug‘s newly released Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough is a wonderful book that teaches us how to silence the inner critic and give ourselves permission to create and write and play.
Yes – play. In Burn Wild, Dr. Codger represents the inner critic, while Dream Kid is our playful, creative side. This concept reminds me of a great scene near the end of The Neverending Story. The Childlike Empress – the Dream Kid of the story – pleads with the main character, “Why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?” Bastian responds with the very Dr. Codger-like, “But I can’t! I have to keep my feet on the ground!”
As writers we spend far too much time listening to Dr. Codger tell us we’ve spelled something incorrectly or used the wrong tense. Our handwriting is sloppy and our language too simple or too complex. We’ll never be good enough. Like Bastian, we’ve been conditioned to believe we’re supposed to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground and get our heads out of the clouds. Dream Kid, on the other hand, is where the imagination and wonder of a story that needs telling come from.
Burn Wild is filled with ways to trick Dr. Codger into piping down and advice for coaxing Dream Kid into coming out to play. There are 99 exercises, or “sparks,” to help you find courage and motivation, and 100 prompts to get your inner Dream Kid hopping and swinging on the playground. You will discover how to give yourself permission to be silly, and you will learn to honor your own difficult memories and experiences, then push beyond their boundaries to view them with a new lens and a different perspective. Burn Wild empowers readers to stop fighting the urge to write a first draft of perfect prose and give in to letting words flow from pen to paper without worrying about spelling or grammar or handwriting or ideas. It is a brilliant form of quiet rebellion.
There is certainly a place for Dr. Codger, and he isn’t completely dismissed here. Eventually writers do have to allow him to step in and do some revising and editing. It’s a critical part of the process, but it shouldn’t hamper our passion or creativity. But this is not a technical, step-by-step, do-these-things-in-that-order how-to on writing a novel in 30 days kind of thing. Burn Wild is a gentle nudge of much needed encouragement to anyone who feels a tiny spark of creativity inside that has been all but snuffed out by that nagging inner critic. For the writer with a completed manuscript collecting dust in a file drawer or eating up space on a hard drive, it is a slight push to find the courage to take his work to the next level. It is for all writers, regardless of where you are on the spectrum between novice and established author. There is a straightforward, yet gentle style that leaves a reader feeling a sense of “she gets me!” and “Geez, it seems the author took a peek inside my head and put it down on paper.”
My own journey as a writer started two years ago in the author’s Wildfire Writing class at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. I am a member of one of the writing groups Christi leads and I am fortunate that she is my writing coach. Since giving Dr. Codger his marching orders, I started a blog, became a contributing writer for The New Agenda, I write periodically for Reading & Writing Café, had an essay published in a local literary journal and, to bring it all full circle, I had an article published in one of Clark College’s magazines (a second one will be published soon). Much to the chagrin of my own Dr. Codger impatiently sulking in the corner, I am currently working on a novel that Christi assures me I will finish as long as I continue letting my Dream Kid laugh and twirl around on the playground.
Your first act of mutiny against your inner critic is to grab a copy of Burn Wild from Amazon. If you’re feeling especially rebellious, start with Chapter 10 on page 42. It’s called “Breaking Rules.”
(Original version of this piece was published at READING & WRITING CAFE on April 3, 2013 by Edee Lemonier. Reposted here, in full, with permission of the author.)