minilesson · reluctant writers · writing workshop

Our Inner Writing Critic

A friend recently gifted me with Dani Shapiro’s book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.

Still Writing

The writer in me simply loves this book. The other evening, I was reading the section called “Inner Censor”, and I knew I had to talk about this with kids. Dani Shapiro writes:

“Under the guise of being helpful, or honest, my censor is like a guided missile aiming at every nook and cranny where I am at my weakest and most vulnerable. She will stoop and connive. All she wants to do is stop me from entering that sacred space from which the work springs. She is at her most insidious when I am the beginning, because she knows that once I have begun, she will lose her power over me.”
( from Still Writing, page 15)

 The next day, I spoke to a class of 6th graders about our inner writing critic. First, I described my own inner writing critic. See, my critic sounds just like me, and she looks just like me, too… except she’s making this face:

It's okay if you're laughing.  The kids thought this was hysterical, too.
It’s okay if you’re laughing. The kids also thought this was hilarious.

Then, the 6th graders gave a face and personality to their own inner writing critics.

Karina's critic looks just like her.
Karina’s inner writing critic looks just like her.
Seems that some inner writing critics wear Aeropostale shirts!
Seems that some inner writing critics wear Aeropostale shirts!
And some inner writing critics look like this!
And some inner writing critics look like this!

Next, I told the kids that when I’m writing, I often hear my inner critic’s voice in my head. She says things like, “That’s a really dumb beginning” or “Nobody cares about that” or “People are sick of reading about your kids, Dana” or “Ha! You don’t know enough about teaching to write a book! Who would buy it?”.  As I spoke, I looked around at the kids’ faces, nodding in agreement. Yep, they hear that voice, too.

The voice of Katie's critic
The voice of Katie’s critic

Before I read Dani Shapiro’s book, the voice of my critic would make me erase, hit the backspace key, hit the “x” to close out of my electronic notebook, or crumple up my paper. I would start over, try again. I used to think that voice was me.

Now I know different. I know that all writers hear that voice. All of us. Here was my message to the 6th graders: All writers have an inner critic. Acknowledge yours. And KEEP WRITING.

Critic chart

I told the kids that sometimes I acknowledge my inner writing critic by thinking to myself, “That’s just my inner critic talking.” Or sometimes, I’ll say out loud, “Well, helllllllo there, critic!” in my silliest voice. (I try not to do that when I’m writing in a public coffee shop.) Then – and here’s the most important part – I keep writing. I put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard, and I write over the noise of my inner critic. Eventually, she quiets down and I get my words on the paper.

After the minilesson, Krystina knew just what she would do the next time she heard that voice.

"I know to just acknowledge it and keep writing"
“I know to just acknowledge it and keep writing”

Omar wrote about the influence of his peers on his inner writing critic

"but my friends Tony and Edwin tell me it's good so I stop listening to my inner writing critic"
“but my friends Tony and Edwin tell me it’s good so I stop listening to my inner writing critic”

I love Dani Shapiro’s book, and I really enjoyed having this conversation with kids.  My hope is they will remember that every writer in the world  hears that voice, and I hope thay they will keep writing.

13 thoughts on “Our Inner Writing Critic

  1. I love how you named a phenomenon known well by all writers, prolific or not! I connected deeply to Anne Lamott’s chapter on “SFD” in her book, Bird by Bird. Thanks for giving me the proverbial duct tape for those rascally voices.


  2. Thank you for this lesson. I love how you shared your inner critic, face that beast, and keep on going! Reminds of the book You Got Dragons. I have to explore my students’ inner critics. I’m sure they are beastly.


  3. This is an amazing post, thank you for writing it. I’m glad that you had your students work on this whole idea with you. Keep, on, keep on….and by the way, I really, really enjoy your stories about the girls and your life in and out of the classroom.


  4. Oh Dana, I love this! I wish I was there to see this lesson! My inner critic is wondering what I can write here that explains how much I love your writing voice especially in this piece. It’s just so truthful and funny.


  5. This is so similar to that distracting voice that takes us off course when we are reading. BUT, the major difference is that the voice of our inner critic gets to us personally. It’s that devil on our shoulder telling us we don’t have anything to say and we are horrible writers. That can permanently scar our kids and cause them to stop writing altogether. That would be devastating. Thank you Dana for teaching our students about this and how to “acknowledge it and move on!”


  6. This is wonderful, Dana – allowing our kids to acknowledge this feeling, just as we do, is a powerful thing. We are going to give this a try tomorrow!


  7. Another aspect of this lesson with your students is that you are acknowledging them as writers by merely bringing up the subject. Their writing and their inner critics are both authentic. You are sharing with them as a writer, a colleague, not as a teacher.


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