Outsmarting the inner critic


In order to progress on my different writing projects this weekend, I spent a lot of time attempting to outsmart the shitbird (as my writing teacher so poetically calls it). For those unfamiliar with the term shitbird, you may know it under another name such as inner critic or personal sabotager.  It’s that voice inside your head that says writing (or any creative activity) is not worth the effort, that it’s very tiring, that what you’ll write will be mediocre anyway, that no one will ever want to read it and so on.  The shitbird also kindly recommends less threatening activities to distract yourself, such as reading other people’s writing online or watching another couple of episodes of Casa de Papel.

Despite the fact that the shitbird makes a systematic appearance, I know that once I sit down and write, I will get into the flow. When I am actually typing the details of a scene, thinking of what happens next in my story or figuring out how to make my dialogue work, the fear melts away and the shitbird goes quiet.

Some of the tricks that work for me are the following:

  • Setting a timer for 25 minutes and telling myself all I have to do is focus uninterrupted or that amount of time. Usually when the timer rings, I feel entitled  to stop, however more often than not, I’m immersed and happy to continue for a while longer.
  • Working on different types of pieces in parallel, like fiction and non-fiction. The positive thing being that I can procrastinate on one with the other depending on where the shitbird is being more vocal.
  • Planning a fun activity/treat I can enjoy only once I’ve spent a certain time focussed on writing.  This works really well for me.  Most of us do this intuitively to some extent and I learnt recently that this strategy carries the beautiful name of ‘temptation bundling‘ (term coined by Katy Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania). Basically it means linking an activity with short-term benefits you like to do, with an activity with long-term benefits you should do, in order to feel motivated to do the latter.

Please let me know your techniques for dealing with the shitbird in the comments. I’d love to try them!!

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