Shut Up, I’m Writing!

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Josh Irby. Josh is a writer and author of Meeting Miss Irby. He lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina with his wife and three children where they help university students tell better stories with their lives. Follow him on twitter @sarajevojosh or his blog.

My life is noisy. With three small children and a fourth having just arrived, it’s hard to find a quiet place to think at home.

At work, I lead a team of 12 people. There are always questions to answer, teammates to encourage, problems to solve. Often, writing is drowned out by the noise. Sometimes I just want to shout,

Shut up! I’m writing!

Shut Up, I'm Writing
Photo Credit: Drew Coffman via Compfight cc

But recently, I’ve realized these external voices are not the problem. They are not the greatest threat to my writing. There are three voices that will drown out my writing if I don’t control them — and they all live inside my head.

The Critic

The Critic sits in a high back chair somewhere in my subconscious immaculately dressed and flipping through a classic novel. I can tell by his smug smile that he has high standards.

Nothing is ever quite good enough for him, and he’s proud of the fact.

He knows that he is the secret to my creative success. His ability to distinguish between good and bad writing is what makes my voice unique.

Without the Critic, my words would blend into the noise of our information age. He gives my writing voice an edge. But he is also my worst enemy.

I sit at my desk, fingers resting on the keys.  He leans forward in his chair, straightens his double Windsor, and stairs up at me under lowered eyebrows. As I type, he whispers:

  • “Not good enough.”
  • “Are you sure you want to say it that way.”
  • “Tired and overused.”
  • “That sucks!”

I hit the backspace and feel my fingers tense. An hour later, I’m still staring at a blank page. And a blank page is a writer’s kryptonite.

How to silence the Critic

You have to be straightforward and clear with the Critic. Thank him for all he contributes to your creative voice. Then tell him to shut up.

He is not needed right now. He will have his opportunity to tear your work to pieces in time — just not now. For the time being, he can shut up and go back to his novel.

The Cynic

It’s noon, and the Cynic is snoring on the couch. He’s wearing undersized jeans and oversized headphones. The music is loud. He says he turns it up to drown out the stupid things people say.

He wakes up and sees me staring at the blank page on my computer.

“Did you check your blog views for yesterday?” he asks. “Pretty low. This month is about half of last month.”

I try not to listen, but his words fall heavy. He sits up and pretends not to watch. I type.

“You know that no one’s listening, right?” he mutters under his breath.

My fingers move over the keyboard. Suddenly, a sentence forms on the page. It feels right. I read back over it and my blood pumps harder. It’s good!

From the couch I hear a sarcastic groan, “Wow, that’s an original sentence! You’re doing a great Jeff Goins imitation.”

Backspace. Blank page. Kryptonite.

I think of all the other things I could do with my time. I wonder if the world really needs another writer. I consider quitting.

The Cynic smirks and lies back down.

How to silence the Cynic

Unlike the Critic, the Cynic contributes nothing to your writing. He’s a freeloader and nuisance. One day, when he’s at the store, pack up all his things and leave them in the front yard. When he comes back, he will get the point.

Oh, and leave him a note:

Cynicism is easy. Creativity is hard. I choose to create. So, shut up, I’m writing.

The Doubter

The Doubter sits at the kitchen table, her wrinkled hands clasped together and gray hair tightly wound in a bun. She stares at me with worried eyes, shifting in her wooden chair.

I have finally begun to fill my blank page and it feels good. There is no thrill like an idea coming together into a clear message. I read back over the first draft with excitement.

A shaky voice drifts from the kitchen, “What are you working on?”

I don’t even look up from my work. I am zeroed in. “My book.”

“Oh honey, I know you really want to publish a book. You know I love your writing, but do you think anyone will publish it? I mean, the publishing industry these days…” Her voice fades.

I type.

“Maybe you should set your goals a little lower. I just don’t want to see you get hurt. You know, your Aunt Jean tried to publish and you remember what happened to her.”

I squint my eyes and try to focus. She’s getting to me.

“Your family loves you. Isn’t that enough? I mean, why go out into the big world and risk the pain? It is jungle out there.”

I save my work and close the computer. I need some fresh air.

How to silence the Doubter

First, thank the Doubter for caring about you so much that she’s concerned for your comfort. Then tell her plainly, “Some things are worth getting hurt over.”

Maybe you will get hurt. Maybe you’ll be rejected. But this dream is too big to quit over a little pain. You would rather experience the sharp pain of failure than the dull agony a dead dream (tweet that if you agree).

Then kindly say those five wonderful words:

Shut up, I’m writing.

What internal voices do you need to silence? How do you clear your head? Share in the comments.

Josh is a writer and author of Meeting Miss Irby. He lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina with his wife and three children where they help university students tell better stories with their lives. Follow him on twitter @sarajevojosh or his blog.

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

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