Hi. My name is Laura (hi, Laura) and I have voices in my head.
Before you look up the number for the nearest mental institution, ask yourself this: are there not voices in your head that whisper to you from time to time? Most of us have at least one of those (note: if you asked yourself if you have voices and a tiny high-pitched “no” echoed in your brain, you do. They’re just in denial).
Being a writer means I have several voices in my head. Some of them are characters I’ve written, telling me where the plot is going. For one book, I actually had a dwarf sea captain march into my head and inform me he was in the book. I didn’t argue with him, and in he went.
There is one voice I have as a writer. I call her Critical Voice. In my mind she’s a woman with sharp features, skinny, with a long ruler in her hand. She tells me my writing is garbage, I’m never going to succeed, why am I writing that? It stinks.
She is hard to keep down. Other writers I know mentally shut her up in a box or sometimes give her other jobs to do, hoping she’ll stay out of the writing office. I’ve tried several methods, including simply telling her to shut up, but she always worms her way back into my mind.
I think all writers deal with her to some extent, even the bestsellers. She is every English teacher you ever had, every bad reviewer, everyone who’s tried to discourage you from the writing path. That’s what makes her so effective — she knows your weak points.
What I’ve come to realize is that she has a sibling.
This is the critical voice of my life, if you will. I haven’t gone as far to name or describe them in my mind, though I sometimes believe it’s Satan whispering discouragement to me. If this voice isn’t Satan, I’m convinced it’s on his payroll.
Let me give you an example of this particular voice: I am currently typing this column uncomfortably close to my deadline. I got out of bed late this morning and have been running behind. This means I’m not going to get everything done I planned for the morning.
This critical voice has taken the occasion to tell me I should have gotten up earlier, that I’m a lazy idiot, and I’m going to let people down.
One problem with this voice is it has a kernel of truth in it: I should have gotten up earlier. I was tired and let myself doze off after the alarm went off instead of promptly jumping out of bed. That much is true.
But does it follow that the rest of it is accurate? Am I a lazy idiot? Will I let people down today because I won’t get all done that I planned?
Looking at it objectively, I must call shenanigans on most of what it says. I know I’m not an idiot, and I don’t think I’m so much lazy as I have a bunch to do and fight fatigue sometimes. As far as letting people down, I will get the column done on time, and anyone else who expected certain things from me will understand.
So, this critical voice, like the other, is a bit of a liar. And I need to remember that when it’s on a roll.
We tend to put ourselves down a lot. That’s your very own critical voice, alive and well and in your head. Sometimes you must face the voice and tell it we aren’t listening. Call it out. Tell it to go away.
If you figure out a way to keep it tamed, would you please let me know? Meanwhile I will do the best I can with this mental whip and chair I’ve thought up. Wish me luck.