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Writing What You Know

Writing Out the Gremlin

3 Steps to Overcoming Messages from Your Inner Critic

By Lisa Collazo, LCSW | Posted June 1, 2007 | Updated May 27, 2019

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." —Eleanor Roosevelt

When I think of the concept of the inner critic, I find it's useful to envision an entity outside of myself, something getting in the way of what I'm attempting to create with my writing. In the coaching world, that entity is referred to as a gremlin — described in the Wiktionary website as "a mythological mischievous creature…depicted as mechanically oriented and devious."

How does the gremlin work its magic? For writers, gremlins can erupt anytime we sit down to write. Negative messages from the past begin to creep into the present, hindering our writing. For example, one negative message might be: "What makes me the expert on this topic?" "(Insert name of brilliant, famous writer here) can do it so much better than I can." A message like this one is formed early in childhood and we carry it into adulthood and our writing life. In childhood, these messages could be protective in nature, but in adulthood they don't serve us well. As a coach, it's my job to help writers develop new messages that bring about creative changes in their lives.

3 Steps to Overcoming the Inner Critic

Here are 3 simple steps to writing out the gremlin:

  1. Identify: Begin to look at where the negative message originated. In the above example, "what makes me the expert" might stem from an experience you had with a parent, teacher or colleague. Taking the step to investigate the origins of the message and identify it clearly will help remove the power it holds over you today.

  2. Acknowledge: Once you've identified the negative message, it's time to acknowledge how it served you in the past. For example, the criticism you received from a university professor about a paper he/she felt was less than satisfactory might have been useful ten years ago, but could have left a lingering feeling of failure that carried over to the present in your writing. As you look at your current writing project, ask yourself "how does this message serve me today?" If the answer is that it doesn't, you can successfully move onto the next step.

  3. Replace: Now that you've both identified and acknowledged the negative message that has kept you from writing successfully, it's time to replace your gremlin with a positive message that you can hold onto as you delve into your writing project. Using the above example, you might discover that "what makes me the expert" can be replaced with "I know this topic because…x, y, z." Begin to focus on the reality. Ask yourself the following question: "What do I know about this topic?"

Practice these steps and you'll be free to write what you know. Being aware of the negative messages via your inner critic, knowing how it served you in the past, and realizing what's real and true today are key factors to writing out the gremlin.

Copyright 2007, Lisa Collazo LCSW. All Rights Reserved.

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