Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How do you handle your inner critic? (11/15/05)

Featured writer: Betty Winslow

Contributors this month:
Barbara Spicer
Betty Winslow
Charlene Bunas
Jane Merryman
Jo Lauer
Susan Bono

Betty Winslow

Ignore her.

Betty Winslow, in Bowling Green, Ohio, humming loudly to drown out her inner critic.

How do you handle your inner critic?

  by Barbara Spicer

Her voice is neither harsh nor strident. She whispers, "Don't bother. Don't worry. This won't get you anywhere."

In the years when getting somewhere was the engine that drove my days, her doubts were daunting. If I wasnąt going to have my photo inside the cover of a book accompanied by a succinct, enticing biographic sketch, then she was right, "Why bother?" Even now at the end of a well-spent hour in my journal or my practice notebook, her whining can make me feel like the time was wasted. I could have cleaned the kitchen or gone for a walk, activities that would give me something to show for my efforts.

I turn on her and tell her that it doesn't matter if it doesn't matter. Making sense of myself, to myself, for myself is enough for me. If every volume vanished, consumed by flames, if no word of mine was ever read again, even by me, I am satisfied with the doing, content with the pen in my hand, watching the words form on the page, feeling my life shift as I dig deep and discover the stories I have carried for so long.

Barbara Spicer, Tomales, CA.

Betty Winslow

Ignore her.

Betty Winslow, in Bowling Green, Ohio, humming loudly to drown out her inner critic.

Charlene Bunas

You ask me how I handle my inner critic. To begin, I must introduce her. Her name, Clementine, is also the name of the seedy variety of tangerines, not the sweet seedless type. She is filled with hard-to-swallow seeds. All my life, she has tempted me with negative messages. They have undermined my self-esteem and personal confidence. Today I'm in boot camp, jogging, climbing walls and crawling through verbal muck, still training to battle this ongoing adversary. She's nimble and so it's necessary for me to use CIA. I work to keep my creativity, insight and action finely tuned.

Clementine chants: "You're too old to be relevant, too removed from publishing to be accepted, too shallow, too sensitive."

"Yes, yes," I cry. "You're right."

The winner raises her clawed hands in the air, victorious again. I press the button and turn off the computer. I close my notebook and put away the pen.

She's reminded me more than once that any publication accepting my work is not worth anyone's subscription. She's convinced me my forays into humor essays only skim surfaces, jet skis on oceans of philosophic possibilities. She has taught me to wear see-through skin. For example, one writing teacher I had stressed that any writer must, first and foremost, love what she is writing. My interpretation was that I should never again submit.

Battles continue. So does my relationship with her. She tries sabotaging, insisting on tidiness in my writing corner and a weed-free garden. For too long, I listened to her barbs about my desk, my bookcases, my piles of paper. She tries guilt, reminding me that there are more writers in the world than readers and that a worthwhile project would be to volunteer to teach the non-readers of the world the value of written world. She tells me my world of words is excessive consumption.

Finally, I boldly faced this seedy Clementine. She withered. Her bullets bounced. I've studied under excellent teachers, have attended writing conferences, and have developed friendships with other writers. Today, I facilitate a writers' workshop as part of the Sonoma County library curriculum. I've learned to stay strong. Part of my arsenal contains a notebook and pen. I keep those near me at all times. Now, I catch stray words and inspirations. I plant my own seeds of stories, poems, and essays. My writing is colored in primary colors and my critic has faded into shades of grey.

Charlene Bunas fights the good fight in Santa Rosa, CA.

Jane Merryman

My inner critic is probably the most enduring element of my personality. It survives jeers, indifference, strangulation—any defense I lob at it. My inner critic has the bounce-back quality I would prefer to have in my skin.

My inner critic. If only I were as hard-bitten, cynical, demanding, and perfect. Oh, for the patience, the stamina, the vigilance, the high threshold for boredom. How I wish I were as able to stop cold with a mere arched eyebrow that nasty coworker, malicious relative, or insensitive stranger.

My inner critic, a role model par excellence.

Jane Merryman gardens and hikes in and around Petaluma, California.

Jo Lauer

How do I handle my Inner Critic? I listen to what she has to say, then I sit her down in a little pool of sunshine, give her a lollipop and a good book (someone else's), preferably with pictures. If her feedback makes even a lick of sense, I do a bit of re-writing. If she's just in a snotty mood, the lollipop thing usually works.

Jo Lauer is a Sonoma County therapist who gets a kick out of writing. Her articles and essays have been published locally, nationally and internationally.

How do you handle your inner critic?

  by Susan Bono

Remember the Patty Duke Show? How Patty, typical all-American girl, finds herself saddled with an identical cousin named Cathy from England? I don't remember much about the show except for a couple of lines from the theme song about how they "laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike," and the fact that Cathy was as demure and proper as Patty was gauche and impulsive. Are you wondering why I'm going on about this?

It's because, like Patty and Cathy, my inner critic looks so much like me that even I get confused sometimes. You stand us side by side and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. A few of my closest friends who have spent time with us both claim that my inner critic has a slightly hardened gleam in her eye, and a laugh that sounds forced, as if she doesn't get the joke but is covering for it. But I'm not that astute, and when I think I'm hearing my own voice saying in a thoughtful tone, "You've run that idea into the ground," or, "That's been done before," or "You'll never get it to work," well, I've been known to fall for it. Many times I will mistake hers for the voice of reason itself, and thank goodness I can stop now before I waste any more time on this garbage.

Lately, I've taken action to remedy this difficult situation. "Any writing is better than no writing," I tell myself, loudly enough for my inner critic to overhear. She might then try to convince me that putting out bad writing is like littering the landscape with fast food wrappers and cigarette butts, but we both know there's no real crime in it. I just keep repeating that mantra until she shuts up. And the other night while she was sleeping, (with one eye open—it's really creepy!) I stole into her office and used a Sharpie to draw a mustache on that sneering upper lip. Now I always know it's her when she shows up, looking like one of those old melodrama villains.

Oddly enough, these crude defenses have fostered greater understanding between us. I've seen that my inner critic is really more like a frightened girl who is terrified no one will ever listen to her. She just hates being left out. So I allow her to come visit me on occasion, even help me with my writing. I say "help" but it's kind of like having a toddler help you make a cake. It adds more work, but is good for the relationship if everyone holds onto her sense of humor.

"What you resist persists," someone told me not long ago. It might have been my inner critic.

Susan Bono is making friends and influencing people in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

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