Don’t write, be happy, or ‘how to silence the inner critic’


As a writer, you’ll have read and heard plenty about an ‘inner critic’ we all have who tells us our writing isn’t good enough, that someone else’s novel is better, that we’ll never get this finished, that we might as well just give up right now. Familiar?

But my inner critic is a little different. She pipes up whenever I’m not writing, to take me to task for doing everything but. Spending an hour on ebay drooling over Danish dining sets? She’ll tell me to log out and open up Scrivener. Cleaning the house? She’ll demand to know who’s coming over to see it anyway, and suggest I leave the dishes in the sink and sit down at my desk right this very instant! Writing copy for a home design website, when I could be clocking up words on my manuscript? She’ll ask if I really need that £65 anyway, since I’ll only fritter it away on lattes and the cinema.

“I don’t think you’re going to make it as a writer,” my aspiring film-maker ex-boyfriend proclaimed recently. “If you really wanted to write, you wouldn’t want to eat out, and see movies and have a social life.” (You can see why we broke up, huh?)

When you’re not writing or out earning money to pay the bills or looking after the kids, do you have a bloody good explanation for all the other things you’re doing in your life that aren’t writing-related? Even if you do, you’re probably used to other people, especially writers and creative types, telling you that you’re ‘making excuses’ to avoid writing.

I’m here to tell you that you’re not making excuses.

You’re living. You’re learning. You’re growing. So stop beating yourself up.

My ebay habit might be considered procrastination by some, but I’ve learned so much about mid-century furniture, British design classics, and even West German pottery from ebay alone, that friends now approach me for interiors advice. I get a real buzz from being able to help, and my friend D, for example, now has an art deco living room she loves. We’re learning to reupholster next.

Perhaps controversially, I don’t even believe in procrastination. If I’m doing something my inner critic declares to be a ‘waste of time’ (i.e. ‘not writing’), I stop and analyse it. Often, I realise I’m tired, and doing unproductive stuff is my body and mind’s way of setting me on autopilot so I can recover.

If you’re one of those creative people who has many interests and loves, you need to give attention to all of them, as well as leaving some time at the end of the day to play on ebay. In the end, it’s all about balance. Give time to all of your creative passions, every fortnight (no, not every week. You like too many things to fit it all in in just seven days). Writing a novel can be one of the harder ones to slot in – the instant gratification of a pretty photograph imported to photoshop is a far more satisfying hit than monotonous black and white text scrolling up your computer screen – so make a little extra effort not to let it slip.

It’s easier to write if you don’t guilt-trip yourself every time you’re not doing it. When you’re not writing, accept you’re not writing and then park that thought and enjoy whatever else you’re doing. That way, when you do come to write, you do it with joy and in freedom. The words flow better that way.

This article was inspired by the ‘You too?’ blog post series on Creativity’s Workshop. Jessica posed the question this month – ‘You too? What do you do on non-writing days?’ and this article became my answer!

I’ve added text to an original image by Crystal.

  • Just the kick in the pants I needed. I was mentally chastising myself for not starting the story that’s been in my head for 6 weeks. For not starting the painting I’ve been asked to do and instead going to markets and checking up on facebook. Thank you xx

  • I’m so pleased to hear it! Michelle, I have been chastising myself because I need to write a certain summery post for a certain summery person who shares my name, and I haven’t actually started yet. Sorry! x

  • Clare Etheridge

    That is a great post Michelle, I have so much I want to do it is amazing, also means I could use a personal assistant to organise me! Ha, maybe I could get one of the kids to take the job. Love the picture too. Clare x

  • Thank you Clare. Can you spare a kid for me please? 😉

  • West German Pottery… be still, my beating heart. I agree, balance surely is the key. If you’re only writing and not living life like a normal person, how can you possibly write the next great world novel?! I think living life is a precious and necessary ingredient in the recipe of writing.

  • Don’t worry yourself over it one little bit. It will happen when the time is right, and if it hasn’t happened, then the time is not right.

  • You are so right Michelle, guilt-tripping is a sure fire creativity inhibitor!

  • Juliet Clare Bell

    True. Happy writing and non-writing. As Leila Rasheed, fellow children’s author said to me last week when I was not quite writing what I was supposed to be writing, sometimes writing doesn’t look like writing… Clare.

  • Oh yes, Clare! That’s a lovely way of thinking of it. It’s so much more – thinking, living, relaxing….it all feeds into the written words in the end 🙂

  • Robyna@theMummyandtheMinx

    I LOVE this post and can very much relate. Looking forward to getting to know you better through BWP 2.0 Your blog is gorgeous.