Someone whom I greatly admire, Kristine Katherine Rusch, posted about the critical voice this week on her blog. (You can read it here) For those who aren’t familiar with Kris, her blog is for readers as well as writers. She is a terrific writer, editor, and teacher and an all around great person. This particular post was aimed at writers who have a hard time setting their creative voices free, but it got me thinking about how the critical voice attacks us in all areas of our lives, not just as artists.
The critical voice is perhaps easiest to see when it comes to how we look. Too fat, too skinny, nose too big/too small, hair . . . you get the picture. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who isn’t critical of their body. I once knew a woman who wouldn’t wear sandals because one of her toes had a slight crook to it. How many people would even notice that? Yet to her it was a glaring defect.
Creative people are rarely satisfied with their work because of their critical voice. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written a story and thought, “jeez this sucks.” Or designed and hooked a rug–”I made so many mistakes,” or made a quilt– “I should have used a different color.” Or, or, or . . .
I have a number of artist friends who can always find something wrong with their works, works that I look at or read and compliment and they come back with, “But I should have–”. As creators we always want to do better, which on the one hand can be a good thing because it keeps us creating. On the other hand, it can provide the excuse to stop trying. “I’ll never be good enough. I’ll never _______(fill in the blank)”
I could sit here all day and type self-criticisms. How did we learn to be so hard on ourselves? Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, expects us to be perfect human beings so why do we expect it of ourselves? I look back at my life and cringe at the things I’ve done and said and screwed up. Things I could have handled so much better. I am very critical of my younger self.
But here’s the thing–I did the best I could at the time. I made decisions based on my knowledge and experience at that time. Would I make those same decisions knowing what I know today? Absolutely not. Or maybe in one or two instances yes.
I have early books out that I just shake my head over. I wrote the best book I could at the time, but I have learned so much since those early books. I am a better writer today than I was as recent as last month. That’s because I am constantly learning and practicing. The urge to pull those books and rewrite them is strong but if I did that I’d be rewriting the suckers every year as I continue to become a better writer. When would I find the time to write new books?
Fear of criticism–our own and from others–can be crippling. We have to learn to shut it out or it will stifle our individuality which comes from our creative voice.
We are all on a journey of discovery. We learn more from our mistakes than we do when things are always hunky-dory. Give yourself and others room to make mistakes, room to try things out. Silence your critical voice and make the effort to look at the positive, to enjoy the different. It’s a constant battle, but you will be a much freer and happier person for it.
Photo: Barn Swallow in Rain copyright Gunsmith Photo (I love these beautiful little birds and look forward to their arrival every spring)