Done with that NaNoWriMo novel yet? If so, congratulations! If not, don’t sweat it: you still have five more days to reach that 50,000-word milestone. We’re now in the final stretch of NaNoWriMo, which means it’s crunch time for hundreds of participating writers still striving for that winner’s badge. And at this critical stage in the event, I figure now is the perfect time to discuss those voices in every writer’s head: the inner writer and the inner critic.

You probably hear these voices in your mind whenever you write (my voices are so active that I once wrote a poem about them!), but if you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, they must have been in overdrive this past month. Knowing when to listen to which voice is a skill that every writer needs to master in order to turn out a decent work, but it can be difficult if they’re both constantly trying to talk at the same time. The truth is that these voices are equally important, so how do you achieve that perfect balance between them?

When to Listen to the Writer

Writing - Once upon a timeThe writer is the wide-eyed idealist in you. It’s the innocent unbridled spirit that just wants to tell stories without the slightest regard for form and style. Imagine it as the starry-eyed child you once were still living on in your heart and fueling your art. In a nutshell, the writer is pure creativity.

Listen to the writer for ideas and motivation. If there’s a story inside you waiting to be told, let the writer set it free and start it off on its journey to the outside world. Don’t worry so much about the technical aspects of it just yet; the important thing is to get the story out of your system first, before the doubts begin to creep in and slow or halt your progress. When your energy to write begins to waver, the passion and emotion of the writer will motivate you to keep going until your story is complete. The writer’s voice is there to cheer you on and remind you that if you have a story consuming your thoughts, then chances are it’s worth writing.

When to Listen to the Critic

Critic - Red PenThe critic is your inner skeptic. The polar opposite of the writer, the critic serves as the editor’s voice that balances out the idealistic and ingenuous artist. While the writer is fueled by creativity and emotion, the critic is driven by technical perfection, and if the writer represents the impulsive inner child, the critic represents the levelheaded outer adult who keeps him/her in check.

The best time to listen to the critic is after your first draft is complete. Once the core story is written, you don’t have to worry so much about the critic’s voice holding you back and instead can start letting it push you forward. The purpose of the critic is to find the flaws in your work and figure out how to fix them, whether they’re as simple as grammatical errors or as complex as plot structure. It’s only too easy to resent this voice for all its negative feedback, but if you keep in mind that such comments are nothing personal and simply meant to help you make your work as presentable to the public as possible, you can turn your inner critic from your worst enemy into one of your strongest allies.

The Perfect Balance

Despite all the conflict between them, it’s important to remember that both the inner writer and the inner critic are essential to a writer’s success. The trick to finding the perfect balance between them is to let them complement each other: the writer will drown out the insecurities of the critic, and the critic will polish the rough groundwork of the writer. Learn to listen to both voices equally, and they’ll help you create your greatest works of art! Good luck!

Do you struggle with the voices in your head? Which one do you hear most often: the writer or the critic?

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