My cruel inner critic, the Odyssey Workshop, pantsing, and dictation.

I am going to be candid. In fact, I plan to keep my posts a little more honest from now on.

I find a lot of advice like “5 Ways To Deal With Writer’s Block” or “10 Ways To Move Past Rejections.” But what truly helped me is hearing or reading honest stories. I don’t claim I’m qualified to teach others how to deal with the darker side of writing. But at least, I can share my thoughts and experiences, and my personal strategy for overcoming these hurdles. In this post, I’ll talk about dealing with my cruel inner critic, and in the next, I will talk about my struggle with rejections.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But I started working seriously on it only after I had my first child and realized how much time I had wasted before when I had plenty to waste. Now, after having two more kids, my outlook on life hasn’t changed. What has changed is that I have been writing more and sending these pieces out into the world. As many can imagine, soon after, the rejections started coming in.

When I started writing, the only thing I thought about was finishing what I started. All I wanted was to get that first draft down, believing that, as long as I got to “the end,” everything would be fine. I did not edit what I wrote. I did not think about punctuation. Occasionally, I even plugged in Danish, Turkish, Bulgarian, or German words because I couldn’t think of the right one in English at that moment. I didn’t care as long as I kept moving forward with my project. I had not yet pried open the chest that held my inner critic.

But with the rejections piling up, things changed. Gradually, the inner critic, the censor, the editor in me awoke. This year, after my stack of rejections grew even more, that inner voice reached a crescendo. It would not shut up. Not only when I was revising my work (that was alright: I do need to be critical then) but also during the fragile process of writing a rough draft. I felt so stifled, my creativity clipped. The inner tirade of “Not good enough,” of “It will never work,” of “This is terrible” would not stop.

Now, to be honest, my confidence as a writer, to begin with, was not very high. When I was younger, I was often told that, financially, writing was not a wise career choice, and also I kept hearing that as a non-native English speaker, I had no chance. All this fed the perfectionist in me, and it took me a while to summon the courage to send my writing out. This year, I took another big step forward and applied for the Odyssey Writing Workshop. But while I was waiting for a response, my mind went into a downward spiral of self-chastisement. At least, while trying to get out of that quagmire, I discovered a few good things.

I realized pantsing is not my way. It made me insecure and increased my stress when drafting. But I am a pantser at heart. I tried plotting, and that felt constricting. Then I came across a post by Lisa Cron on Writer Unboxed, talking about how important it is to set the foundations of a story before starting to write: the characters, their past and motivations, and, in my case, world-building. I love world-building. This has always been a way for me to approach my stories. So I started not to plot but to think about what came before the beginning. I determined how things worked, and then, as Hugh Howey once said, I found a good way to break them.

This already helped. I felt more secure while drafting, and so the inner critic in my head was not as active. I also asked people in my local writing group, The Freiburg Writers’ Group, for advice. A couple of wise writers suggested I write by hand. First, when one writes on the keyboard, less of the brain activates and the neural networks generated are not as complex (link to article here). Second, it’s way too easy to reach for that delete key. Mistakes are much harder to rectify when writing by hand. Thus, the writer will not have their critical self summoned, leaving that task for later.

But then I thought, Gosh! My novel is over 100,000 words. I would go insane if I had to write this by hand and then type it up. But I did take to heart the notion that the mechanics of writing themselves might or might not encourage self-criticism. And this is when I thought about dictation. The first time I heard about this was in Emma Dhesi’s masterclass series of interviews Be A Bestseller, where Lise Cartwright mentioned it to be part of her workflow.

At first, I could not imagine myself dictating. I am not the greatest public speaker either. I mumble and slur, and when I get nervous, I speak so fast that nobody can understand me. So my first reaction was to reject creating any type of fiction that way. But the idea stuck with me because I also heard that dictating is one of the best ways to get over writer’s block and an overly active inner critic. Same as with handwriting, or even more so, when one dictates, one cannot press the delete key or think about punctuation (at least, I can’t).

So, I tried it. The first transcripts were awful. I was so nervous that my tongue would not obey me. But when I sorted through the jumble of words, I saw that I had said a few things I might have never written. And the way the piece came out was truly mine.

I decided to stick with it and, now, I am dictating this blog post. I also started hand-writing my story foundations and blog post outlines. Like this, I’m bypassing the keyboard in the initial stages of creation. This has truly helped me keep my inner critic quiet when I don’t need her.

All was good until I heard from the Odyssey Workshop. I’ll continue this story in my next post.

Author: Adriana Kantcheva

I'm a Bulgarian writer of (often) speculative fiction, who lives in Germany.

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