A (long) letter to my inner critic

My dear inner critic,

You sound so much like me sometimesit’s hard to tell where you leave off and where I begin. You have my voice, you look a little like me – and yet you’re not me.

I know you pretty well, though. You’re petrified of doing the wrong thing, of saying the wrong thing, of writing the wrong thing. You’re more content to live in fantasies (and what lovely fantasies they are—you really are very imaginative) rather than deal with reality and all its complexity and potential for failure.

You know me equally wellat least, you know my faults. You know that I’m prone to getting excited at the beginning of a project, then running out of steam halfway through.

You know that I get overwhelmed with details. You know that conflict makes me feel hot, and sick, and desperate to escape. You know that my enthusiasms wax and wane easily, that I’m easily diverted, that I’m pulled away from what really matters by all manner of shiny things and in-the-moment distractions. 

You have a definite gift for visualizing worst-case scenarios—financial ruin, relationship breakdown, loneliness, abandonment, rejection. You think that by sharing these visions with me, I’ll be more likely to avoid the path that might bring me within disaster’s muddy-bordered territory.

Don’t climb, because you might fall. Don’t be honest, because people might not like what you have to say (no one likes a critic). Don’t abandon tangible security in favour of some woolly concept like authenticity (authenticity doesn’t pay the hydro bill). Don’t gamble the pretty good for a slim-to-none chance at the wonderful (why would you risk failure?). Don’t try unless you’re sure you’re going to succeed.

You tell me that ambition is a recipe for stress. You tell me that I don’t have the attention span to sustain a long writing project, to maintain the discipline necessary to write, and write, and write, then write some more, never knowing whether I’m going to succeed. 

You tell me that I’ll feel worse about myself if I try and fail than if I never tried in the first place.

I make you sound malevolent, and evil—like you’re a jealous step-sister who doesn’t want me to succeed, who wants to keep me in my place, who doesn’t want me getting too big for my britches.

I know you well enough, though, to know that’s not true. I know you’re not bad.

I get it.

You’re trying to keep me safe. You’re trying to help me stay on an even keel, surrounded by friends and family who love me. You’re trying to give me a calm, contented life, with a steady paycheque, because you don’t want me to be stressed out. You don’t want me to be unhappy. You want me to be safe and stable. You don’t want me to gamble. 

You have my best interests at heart, and I appreciate that. I appreciate your caution, your care, your tethering influence when I’m liable to go floating off somewhere. Thank you for loving me enough to worry as much as you do—for loving me enough to want to protect me from all harm, from all negativity, from every bad feeling that’s out there.

No, you’re not bad—but you are misguided.

You, my dear friend, are so very scared. You have so much fear, and so little faith.

In fact, not only do you not have any faith, but your fear is so great that you actually lack objectivity. You think you’re being smart, and rational, but you’re not. Your fear is preventing you not just from seeing things the way they could be, it’s stopping you from seeing things the way they are. You think that I shouldn’t try and be a writer because I probably won’t succeed, but if we look at my accomplishments rationally (there’s that word again) that may not be a wholly accurate assessment.

I’ve won awards. I’ve gotten praise. I’ve got the concrete skills. In fact, I make a living as a writer now—I’m just not writing what I’d like to write.

Fear is a very poor basis for decision making, my friend. It makes us see things that aren’t there, and it makes us blind to the things that are actually real.

And really, what’s the worst that can happen?

Am I going to die because my first, second, third novels don’t get published? No. Failure isn’t fatal.

Are my friends going to abandon me because I try, and never make it? No. If anything, they’ll probably show me how incredible they all can be. I’ve seen it before, and I have every reason to believe that it will happen again.

Am I going to end up a toothless old woman on a street corner, wrapped in tinfoil and screaming warnings about alien death rays because I didn’t become a published author? Unlikely. If anything, not writing is worse for my mental health than trying and not getting anywhere.

You see?

I know you can’t really trust the hopeful visions that I have – trust and fear rarely walk hand-in-hand – but I’ll tell you what I see, just in case.

I imagine long hours of hard work made delicious and sweet by those times where the words flow, where the story tells itself, where the characters speak and act on their own, without any prodding from me.

I imagine the palpable joy of my fingers clicking on the keyboard.

And finally, I imagine the cool, steady-eyed assurance that comes from knowing that I’m doing 
what I’m meant to be doing – using, not squandering, the gifts I have. 

My dear, imaginative, caring friend, take a seat. I’ve got a comfy chair for you. A cup of tea. A really, really good book. A purring cat. A dark, dreary day outside, perfect for curling up.

Please, make yourself comfortable. Living scared is awfully tiring, and it’s time you took a break.


  1. I am excited for you and I understand your uncertainty because I share it. (Carla and I are actually working on a book right now, and it is hands-down the most terrifying and invigorating project that I've worked in in ages.) You will make this happen and it will be awesome!

  2. Thanks! Your book project sounds wonderful. (What's it about? or is that under wraps for now?) I often wish I had a writing collaborator--someone I could share ideas with, who had a better handle on the "big picture" than I do, could help develop the structure and plot, brainstorm ideas, then let me do the nitty-gritty writing.

  3. This is both amazing and original, and one of those things that I think "I wish I had written this." My writing cap is off to you!

    1. Thank you so much! Leslie Polci said she'd passed my post on to you--sorry I'm not on Google+.... :)

  4. Sara, this is lovely! So very inspiring. Three cheers for you! And to your inner critic, I say: take a nap, friend. A nice, long, comfy nap ... :)

    1. A long, comfy nap curled up with the cat in the duvet...or maybe on a daybed on a screened in porch...

  5. Great writing as always, Sara. I look forward to more.


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