Most Creatives – painters, sculptors, film makers, photographers, writers, dancers, musicians – carry within themselves critical messages that they have heard and learned throughout their life. Who cares what you have to say? You’ll never make it – get a real job. Why even start, you won’t finish it. That’s not marketable. Your work can’t compare to…..

None of us was born believing any of those dismissive and demeaning ideas, but we often come into adulthood thinking that they are our own words. We carry an inner critic (or critics) not of our own making. The following exercises – and they are exercises in the same sense that learning scales is for a musician – can help you confront the inner messages with which you derail or stall out your creating.

1. Identify: Occupy a place where you won’t be interrupted. Have a notebook and pen at hand. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Start the timer. Sit or lie down doing absolutely nothing. (Remember that mediation is doing something.) When the timer goes off, be still a little longer and think about the messages you hear or give yourself when you’re creating. The critic can appear before you begin a piece, right after you’ve started, part way through, and often just as you’re coming to the end of the work. Write down one of the messages. (If there are more than one message, you can repeat steps one and two with each message.)

2. Confront: Set up two chairs. Sit in one and say a critical message to the empty chair. Switch into the empty chair and let yourself feel your response to the message. Notice if any part of your body becomes tense. Increase the tension and notice if the message becomes louder. Hold the tension as long as you can. Close your eyes and notice what images/sensations come up in connection with the message. You could notice a face, a voice, a smell, words, tone of voice. Open your notebook and write a greeting to whatever images/sensations have come up. Re-set the timer for ten minutes and follow the greeting with a letter to the Inner Critic.

3. Neutralize: This step is not about abolishing or killing the Critic. Your work is to render it helpless. One of my students identified the message “Nobody cares what you have to say” as coming from her father. She imagined catching him off guard and covering his mouth with duct tape. Another photographer remembered a consciously hip teacher who had told him that he was about as original as Wonderbread. He pictured tying the teacher to a chair, shaving off his goatee, putting a mullet wig on him, then dressing him in a business suit. My critic was an Inquisitor in a black robe who told me I’d be tortured and killed if I told the truth. He looked stunning in a red satin bra, bikini panties, and fishnet stockings.

Write a conversation between you and your altered critic. Your last step is to find one valuable lesson you learned from the critic. The woman who duct-taped her dad realized that his dismissal of her had prompted her to work even harder – to show him that what she had to say was important. Thank your critic and walk away.

Photo: me and the sysop