How to Tell the Difference Between Your Inner Editor and Your Inner Critic

CriticVs.Shakespeare copy

We’ve all been there. You’re stuck at a difficult spot in your writing, with an edit in mind that you’re not sure is the right move. Would my character really say that? Am I overstating this point? Does the introduction take up too much time? 

If you examined every part of your writing, there would be no end to questions like this. Trouble is, your inner editor is only posing about half of them. The other half are the the undermining work of your inner critic, improving nothing and producing only doubt and hesitation.

(If you’re constantly being plagued by self-doubt and other out-of-control inner critic woes, check out Ten Things to Say Back to Your Inner Critic.)

But how do you tell the difference between them? Here are a few ways.

1. Imagine you were giving that critique to a close friend. If your best friend showed you a story she wrote, and your response upon finishing her first paragraph was, “This isn’t holding my interest because it completely sucks and your entire premise is worthless,” what kind of friend would you be? A crappy friend, that’s who. On the other hand, if you said, “Your opening paragraph is solid, but I think you could rework the first sentence to make it a better hook and keep the reader going,” congratulations: You’ve managed to give your friend’s story a fair shake and provide feedback without demolishing her self-esteem.

Does your inner editing voice make you feel defeated? Would you rather shrink back from your writing or abandon it altogether when that voice speaks?  When you feel that way, that’s your inner critic talking. Remember, your inner editor seeks to make your writing better, not make you feel like a failure. That’s the critic’s domain.

2. Read a review from a real critic. Even the most scathing flesh-and-blood critics aren’t as demoralizing as your inner critic can be. Read some great book reviews from the Sunday Times or customer reviews of your favorites on Amazon for some reader-centered perspective, to help you get back on track.

3. Make the edit you’re unsure about, then get some distance. The only way to know whether a specific change will work for your novel is to make the change. Then, remove yourself from your writing, and come back to it later, preferably after you have a good night’s sleep, and see it with fresh eyes in the morning before you make your decision.

4. Get a second opinion. Even if means grabbing the nearest family member, pointing at a paragraph, and asking, “Does that sound weird?” get an opinion from a real person. Even if they don’t have a particularly insightful reaction, that’s better than spending the night stuck in your own head, wondering what to do.

For even more ways to fight your inner critic, check out Ten More Things to Say Back to Your Inner Critic.