A Short Guide to a Writer’s Imaginary Critics

Writer's Imaginary Critics

You sit down in front of a document to write. You flex your fingers, take a deep breath, and reach for the keyboard… only to be bombarded by a cacophony of inner voices.

Don’t write that! Are you an idiot!?

Quote that one famous guy – you’ll sound smart.

That verb is terrible.

What a fantastically frivolous sentence. Let’s scrap it.

Whoops! That’s not the right word.

You find yourself staring at a blank page for an hour.

Writer's Block

The word “writing” may refer to the physical act of tapping keys or looping letters, but it’s also a mental marathon. When writers slump down in front of the blank document, they think. They combat doubts in their heads and lasso inspiration into sensible sentences. They revise their documents, questioning comma use and arguing with themselves about the relevance of their evidence. Managing internal pressures and floundering ideas can feel like trying to silence a chattering crowd of critics.

To some degree, everyone will have their own unique inner voices, reflecting their singular circumstances, experiences, and dreams. And yet, when writers and scholars discuss their own writing processes, they often describe figures with similar characteristics. By linking these figures together, writers can learn from each other and consider how their own critics are affecting their craft.

This short guide outlines four of a writer’s internal voices: the Gatekeeper, the Unruly Child, the Imagined Reader, and the Word Technician. These four figures aren’t wholly independent: an Imagined Reader might become a Gatekeeper, and a Word Technician can also become an Imagined Reader. Not every writer will be equally familiar with each critic, and there are undoubtedly many more kinds of inner critics that deserve attention. Nevertheless, by taking a closer look at these four, writers can begin to parse through their collection of inner cacklers and separate negative thoughts from helpful ones.

The Gatekeeper

Notable Features: Judgmental, Pessimistic, Fear-Driven

Favourite Saying: “This is terrible. Just give up already!”

Write something

The Gatekeeper, most clearly delineated in Gale Godwin’s essay “Watcher at the Gates,” is a pre-emptive judge who prevents words from ever reaching the page. 1 Writers hear this voice before they even start – they try to write, but can’t find a coherent opening sentence. They labour through a line, and then delete it a moment later.

The Gatekeeper can take many forms. Author Anne Lamott describes grappling with a “vinegar-lipped Reader Lady” who claims her ideas are uninteresting and unworthy of inscription. 2 Other writers might see doubting relative, or a student might see a teacher who assigned them a poor grade. Regardless of the personal inflection, the Gatekeeper keeps writers too busy evaluating ideas in their heads instead of developing ideas on the page.

According to Godwin, fear sustains the Gatekeeper’s voice: fear of writing something “bad” becomes a reason to not write at all. Gatekeepers bombard writers with thoughts of inadequacy. The blank page seems to scream that the writer isn’t talented enough, that everything the writer says is wrong, and that they ought give up. Unfortunately, sometimes writers allow their Gatekeeper’s doubts to become self-fulfilling prophecies. When writers surrender to their Gatekeepers’ judgmental voices, they may put off the work they’d like to finish. By failing to start early, writers run out of time to polish their prose, and end up submitting sub-par work.

The Gatekeeper doesn’t understand that writing is a process. Instead, this inner voice assumes that ideas are simply “bad” or “good,” (or, more likely, “bad” or “not good enough.”) But writers like Godwin and Lamott know they will revise and refine their work, and so they accept imperfection. They write not-yet-good-enough-ideas in their first drafts. Their inner judgmental voices may be helpful later in the editing process when it’s time to structure and focus those ideas, but they need to get something on the page first.

There are several strategies for coping with a loud Gatekeeper:

  • “Disguise what you are writing,” says Godwin. 3 If you don’t plan on writing an “official” draft, you might find yourself writing more easily. Try writing a letter to a friend about your topic, or think of your first draft as a brainstorming page rather than your “real” project or assignment.
  • Speak back to your inner critics. Acknowledge gatekeeping voices as hindering forces, not facts.
  • Shift your goals. Rather than aiming to write an amazing introduction or an entire paragraph for an essay, aim to write for a set amount of time. This way, you won’t fail if you write something bad—you’ll fail if you don’t write at all!

The Unruly Child

Notable Features: Enthusiastic, Scattered, Potentially Stubborn

Favourite Saying: “This is the best idea ever! Or this one! Or this one!”


If writers can free themselves of their Gatekeepers, they may find themselves in a creative burst. As they scribble down words injudiciously, they channel an inner voice that believes every thought must be inscribed and enshrined. Lamott described this all-permissive voice as an Unruly Child “romp[ing]” around – a creative force that is scattered, messy, but generative. She suggests writers embrace this inner permissiveness during the early stages of writing, saying “if the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory… let him.” 4 Similarly, Nancy Sommers claims that early drafts are often written through creative (and, at times, confusing) experimentation. 5 By enthusiastically embracing a jumble of intersecting ideas, a writer find connections and nuances they hadn’t before seen.

Still, this inner voice has limits. The Child believes all ideas are worth keeping. The Child gets attached to specific sentences and wants to preserve them, even when they no longer suit the writer’s purposes. During the revision process, the Child urges the writer to ignore lurking suspicions that a paragraph isn’t working or that they’ve lost focus. The permissiveness that allows the inner Child to produce ideas makes the Child resistant to revision. A more judgmental eye is needed to develop the Child’s impulsive thoughts into a coherent, readable text. Writers trying to quiet their inner Child’s objections to editing can try the following strategies:

  • Save a copy of your original work in a separate document, assuring your inner Child that your original thoughts are still intact. Now, you can edit without fear of losing anything.
  • Re-frame the revision process: remember that you aren’t contaminating your original work by editing. It’s precisely because your ideas are good that you should edit: your ideas deserve to be refined and clarified so they can be shared!

The Word Technician

Notable Features: Detail-Oriented, Rule-Follower, Weak when Isolated

Favourite Saying: “Wait right there! I think I see a comma splice!”


Technicians gets close to the text, digging into the details. They’re the voice that points to misused commas and bland diction. They hate those red squiggly underlines in digital documents.

At first glance, the Technician might seem incredibly important: it makes sense that writers care about writing technics. Still, many scholars of writing composition are wary of the Technician. Focusing on mechanics can distract writers from developing the concepts or themes in their work. The Technician becomes a hinderance while writing a first draft, taking on the role of a Gatekeeper who stops ideas because they aren’t composed with perfected grammatical elegance. Writer Thomas Osborne admits that he often surrenders to his Technician; he gives into his urges to fix all his grammar errors even if he’s just brainstorming. But he also notes that “the sudden halt in my writing causes my figurative train of thought to… come to a screeching, uncomfortable stop.” 6 When he interrupts his thoughts to go back and edit for sentence mechanics, he loses ideas.

Even after a first draft is completed, the Technician isn’t very useful, and is more likely to distract a writer from overarching structural issues that need to be fixed. According to Nancy Sommers, this is a common error committed by new writers: they turn to the Technician immediately after the first draft. These writers think that “most problems in their essays can be solved by rewording,” and they fail to attend to their works’ conceptual unity or logic. 7 Inner Technicians often can’t see how ideas work together; they’re only worried about the grammatical rules and specific word choices. Technicians will stress over the arrangement of clauses within a digressive paragraph that ought to be deleted entirely. Worse, Technicians think writing is “good” as long as it’s grammatically correct, even if the concepts are faulty or the scope unmanageable.

Does this mean the Technician is a lost cause? Certainly not. Here are a few ways to capitalize on the Technician’s attentiveness:

  • Try to think of grammar as a “tool for articulating and expressing relationships among ideas” rather than rigid rules. (Laura R. Micciche calls this “rhetorical grammar.”) 8 Instead of asking “is this sentence correct?” you can ask “does this sentence help me communicate?” The shift from correctness to usefulness allows you to listen to your inner Technicians without losing sight of the text’s meaning or purpose.
  • While drafting, allow the Technician to rearrange and clarify the key sentences, like a thesis of an essay or a topic sentence of a paragraph. Having these sentences refined early on can help a you manage the scope and significance of your work.
  • The Technician can be very helpful for final edits. Once you’re confident with the overall structure of your work, let your Technician refine the details.

The Imagined Reader

Notable Features: People-Pleaser, Detached, Weak Creation Skills

Favourite Saying: “I don’t think you’re saying what you think you’re saying”

The Imagined Reader

If a student is looking over a first draft, they might think about how their professor will evaluate their essay. They re-read the rubric, and suddenly they realize their source integration is awkward. Similarly, if a freelance writer is working for a magazine or a blog, they consider what content and format will be attractive to the expected readers. If they can imagine someone saying that the piece is too long and too dull, they start revising. Writers want their Imagined Readers to think that they are smart, clever, and creative.

Many writers stress the importance of examining their work through the eyes of a reader. Sommers calls the Imagined Reader a “productive collaborator” because they allow a writer to to see “incongruities between intention and execution.” 9 When submerged in the writing process, a writer might miss the gaps between what they want to say and the meaning evoked by words actually on the page. The Imagined Reader allows writers to encounter the text like an external party, performing what Peter Elbow calls “detached monitoring.” 10 Are ideas connected in a way that feels logical, or is the reader scrambling to put scattered pieces together? What are the points that will resonate, and how can the writer capitalize on those ideas? Imagined Readers are also sensitive to genre expectations. If writers use the phrase hell yeah! while writing a business email, the Imagined Reader will accuse them of being unprofessional. If they write about Land Rights but neglect to include any Indigenous sources, the Reader will call them out for biased and careless sourcing.

But while Imagined Readers can identify potential issues overlooked while in the throes of inspiration, they shouldn’t be given too much power. The Reader should not become the writer, lest the writer lose their own voice and say only what they think someone else wants to hear. This is what happens when a student regurgitates what the professor says during class, assuming the professor must know the “right answer.” This is also a trend that lurks in political campaigns – instead of communicating a platform of ideas, politicians might say whatever they think their voter base wants to hear in order to get elected.

But how can writers take the voices of Imagined Readers seriously while maintaining their own voice?

  • Position the Imagined Reader as a voice that offers feedback. Let the Imagined Reader underline passages that aren’t connecting, and leave editing for a later moment instead of jumping in immediately to “fix” the problem. A Reader comments on the text’s strengths and weakness, but doesn’t edit the work itself.
  • Allow your Imagined Reader to edit in a different format—use comments instead of in-text edits, or print your work and edit with pencil and paper.

The Gatekeeper, the Unruly Child, the Word Technician, and the Imagined Reader—these figures represent only some of the voices chattering in our heads when we write. When we begin to examine the diversity of our inner voices, we realize just how complex the writing process can become. Writing includes various drafting stages, shifting practices of revision, and a robust collection of communication skills. Far from being a singular, monolithic action, writing is a dynamic process. It’s also a process we can change. We aren’t condemned to write the same way forever. We can learn how strategies to help us write differently, more effectively, with less misery. Hopefully, by identifying these inner voices and reflecting on how they affect our writing, we can become better, happier writers. 11

Works Cited

  1. Godwin, Gail. “The Watcher at the Gates.” 1977, www4.uwsp.edu/english/mbowman/101/watcher.pdf.
  2. Lamott, Ann. “Shitty First Drafts.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 527-531.
  3. Godwin, Gail. “The Watcher at the Gates.” 1977, www4.uwsp.edu/english/mbowman/101/watcher.pdf.
  4. Lamott, Ann. “Shitty First Drafts.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 527-531.
  5. Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and experience Adult Writers.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 576-589.
  6. Osborne, Thomas. ““Late Nights, Last Rites, and the Rain-Slick Road to Self-Destruction.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 647-652.
  7. Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and experience Adult Writers.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 576-589.
  8. Micciche, Laura R. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 55, no. 4, 2004, pp. 716–37, doi:10.2307/4140668.
  9. Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and experience Adult Writers.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 576-589.
  10. Elbow, Peter. “The Need for Care: Easy Speaking onto the Page is Never Enough.” Writing about Writing: A College Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs, Bedford/St Martins, 2014, pp. 547-564.
  11. Featured image by The Writer mag. Business vector image by jcomp. Idea image by mohamed Hassan. Grammar image by PDPics. Book image by Alexas_Fotos. Coffee vector image by pch.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
Janice Vis-Gitzel is a PhD Student in English & Cultural Studies. She works as a teaching assistant and writing tutor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Want to write about Writing or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. Anita Vandenberg

    I have found each of these “voices” comes through when I am writing. I think Janice has clearly summarized what often trips writers up and, recognizing each voice, provides valid and workable suggestions on how to listen to them and utilize them to make one’s writing better! Thanks Janice!!!

  2. I find myself constantly comparing the quality/originality of my ideas to the world. As long as my ideas surpass, then I allow myself the confidence to share them.

  3. Pause for a moment to sympathise with the poor Amazon author who must live with bad reviews forever attached to his or her otherwise wonderful creation!

    • Bad reviews on Amazon aren’t always a bad thing. Excruciating, cringeworthy, and controversial bad reviews sometimes mean more sales. If reviews on Amazon are really, really excellent or so extremely bad that no one can stand it, you’ve succeeded. The best scenario is a mix of both extremes. Just look out for the “good”reviews.

  4. Micheal

    In 2008 just before the world economy, and indeed much of my personal life, hit the buffers, I enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing. Despite having a couple of novels completed but unpublished, I majored in screen-writing because I had an issue that connected to my own life that I wanted to dramatise. In the torrid ten years that were to follow I questioned my timing and decisions many times.

    At the time our lecturer, the wonderful Dr North told us something which I didn’t really understand then, which is that writing (and particularly screenwriting) is a trade in which it is very difficult to make a living, but surprisingly easy to make a killing.

    Years later, still largely unpublished, I think I begin to understand. The point is that the difference between runaway success and sorry failure is very often a tiny stroke of luck, good timing, having the right contact, etc. Yes you do need talent, however talent it is necessary but not sufficient. You need talent AND… to be a success – and often that AND is something almost trivial.

    For years I felt a failure. These various projects that I had poured my heart and soul into as my late partner was slowly slipping away with dementia had all turned out to be worthless… or so I thought, until I realised that sometimes the main value in writing lies not in the monetary domain. In may case at least one of the pieces acted as a work of self therapy, and others have also had unaccounted spin-off benefits.

    So I don’t think any work of creativity should ever be judged a failure. The secret, like my old riding instructor used to say to me, is simply to get back on the horse one more time than you fall off it! However that does take determination – and you do undoubtedly get a lot of bruises in the process.

    The falls are not failures, they are the hallmarks of someone who is succeeding in trying to learn.

    • What a brilliant final sentence. Should be pasted up in the homes of anyone working so hard to succeed, and falling along the way.

    • Yes, as a novelist with a small book deal I’d agree with this. I am thrilled to be in print – a lifetime ambition, but I’m by no means able to give up my office job.

  5. Marguerite

    My favourite author, a Sicilian, didn’t achieve worldwide acclaim until he published his series of novels in his eighties.

  6. As one writer wrote, he was too poor to afford Writer’s Block. If you need to write you just keep writing.

    Terry Pratchett wrote that he aimed for 400 words a day. Just keep churning out 400 words a day even if the next day you delete most or all of it.

    There’s nothing magic about it, just keep putting one word in front of another.

    • Cecilia

      This is exactly it. You just keep writing and you write through it. You might churn out rubbish for a while but you’ll eventually get back on track. Writing is about rewriting.

    • Writers’ block invariably means that the writing isn’t working. A good old fashioned purge with the delete key always works wonders for me.

  7. Conwoman

    Recognise these inner critics. You won’t be able to silence them.

  8. If you love writing, just keep writing. A successful writer is one who can put words “down on paper”, not the one with the most plaudits, book deals or sales.

  9. Great post. So what is success? I know society tends to view it in terms of fame and fortune, but creativity can be success in and of itself. Why did you do it in the first place? Was it to become that traditional notion of successful or because you had something to say and felt the need to put it out there? Your success is predicated only on how you perceive your art, not on others or profitability.

    I have had a book published, and ended up with some loyal followers, but not massive popularity, but my main mode of creativity is painting. I was told by my parents I shouldn’t pursue it because I would never succeed. So I’ve spent a lifetime doing it for the love of it, the act of creating, which has and always will be my first love. I’ve started putting it out there, finally, tentatively, slightly apologetically. I have no expectation of making sales, not because it’s no good but because at a deep level I don’t believe it’s possible. I’m not the best, but I know I have talent and skill. But I’ll never stop doing it because it’s what makes me me. I get the sense that while you’d like traditional success, you write because it’s who you are. So do that.

    • “What is success”? is such a great question for writers to ask themselves, and I think we need more metrics for “success.” There have been times when I’ve written things that didn’t really end up as I’d hoped (and would never be considered publishable), but the process of writing helped me think about topics in a new light, and so those pieces helped me grow as a person even if I didn’t end up with a shiny finished product. I also completely relate to your statement that writing makes me who I am, and so I’ll keep doing it regardless of “success.”

    • ‘I’ll never stop doing it because it’s what makes me me’ is wonderful advice. And well done to you too on your book and your painting and the creative life you’ve made for yourself.

  10. Priscilla

    Writing’s tough. It’s not like a painting or a song where you can get quick feedback simply by looking/pressing play. Instead, it sits there hidden in a file and without publication can feel like a waste of time.

  11. Sound advice and beautifully put.

  12. The Artifice is one of the few publications I frequently visit specifically for this type of content.

  13. Writing is a terrible career if you’re haunted by insecurity and self doubt. The successes are fleeting, the failures lethal. I have about 50 books published and won an award or two, but you’re always teetering on the edge of a precipice. I know fine writers who can’t get a deal ever.

  14. I’m not a published author yet listen to my inner self and write thoughts and predictions with life itself.

    By connecting this way I’ve found a secret ability which runs alongside my everyday lifestyle, able to release information onto a tablet/mobile phone as soon as the thought arrives.

  15. I struggled with my inner critics for years, but I was listening to a podcast and someone said, would you talk to your best friend in that way and of course the answer is No so don’t let that inner voice talk to you like that. It’s hard to get out of the habit but thinking of it in those terms and batting the nasty thoughts away has really helped.

    • Sometimes though (and I’m ashamed to admit it) I do long to talk to my friends like that.

  16. This is a really nice, well-written article. Lot’s of truth in it, and a nice dose of self-awareness and self-deprecation.

  17. I think the best artists tend to have an unshakeable belief in the importance of what they have to say, and an equally unshakeable humility about their ability to say it.

  18. There is something fundamentally egotistical about creating in order to show off to the public. Writer, painter, singer – all these people are, by definition, saying ‘look at me. Look at how brilliantly I do this thing. Clap, praise me, pay me!’

    Hence the sensitivity of all artists to criticism.

    Hence the enormous amount of total crap out there, all across the arts.

    • – There is something fundamentally egotistical about creating in order to show off to the public…

      Is that really what you think all creatives do?

      • I don’t think it’s what they tell themselves they are doing, but to extrapolate from what this article appears to be saying, egotism is a fundamental building block of the creative drive.

        I’ve met very few creative people whose work is kept secret/private. Most are trying to sell their work, or the idea that they are great at something, so pretty much all seem to need the validation of the crowd to reinforce their self belief. If I’m an engineer and I build a bridge, the validation comes from that bridge standing up for an acceptable length of time. I don’t need applause or rave reviews. I just need to do my job well. Artists don’t have that luxury. Success is entirely dependent on some vague Venn diagram in which public approval crosses over with personal artistic goals and perhaps cash to make a living. Ego is a big driver in the belief that you can do this and that you doing it is a worthwhile thing. That’s not inherently wrong, it’s just part of the act of creating original stuff and personally I’m OK with it if the creative person has even the smallest awareness of this force within them. If they don’t, things get pretty tiresome.

  19. Writers are often devoid of self-criticism.

  20. What a soul destroying artform to be in: how many thousands of great works sink without trace because the authors couldn’t get over the almost insuperable barrier of their inner voices.

  21. Anthony

    Great article. You have described me, pretty well. I make a point of not taking myself too seriously, however, it is a daily task. Some days, I do pretty well. At the heart of our vanity, as writers is the implication of a sense of inadequacy. After all, what nerve we have to think that people can learn from us. Isn’t it a bit presumptious to think that we can approach a well nourished subject an add light. Conversely, if we do not believe that we can then we have little hope of becoming great writers.

    I take solace in the idea that I am tackling a subject that people are interested in and that I may possibly offer a point-of-view that people find interesting and that’s the best I can hope for.

    • The alternative to vanity (as a motivation) is meaning – if you write not for the praise, but because you think something needs to be said. That said, I have no particular problem with why people write… There are many things that motivate us.

      • Absolutely. During my second year of my undergrad, I had a professor explain writing as a conversation between many writers and readers. We can use writing to connect with each other, share our thoughts, and explain how other people’s thoughts have helped us. I think it helps to focus on the relationships we develop through writing, because it helps us remember that we aren’t working in a vacuum. We’ve all be inspired by other writers and are always working in tandem with our fellow writers and readers.

  22. The most fulfilled and joyous individuals are those talented – and lucky, because luck plays a definite part – enough to make their living from doing what they love. That’s real winning. Therefore, by definition, most of us are not winners. So the question is: how do we define ourselves in a way that avoids crushing self-negativity and ultimately despair?

  23. Madeline

    Keep going and write as though your existence depends on it. Feeling too comfortable does us no good. A desperation and determination to survive can do us a huge favour in terms of mental health. You do not want to just cruise along, that’s clear. Assert your independence from your family, tell them you need space to concentrate on your dream. This does not mean upending your life, but it may mean taking a writing holiday – either at home or somewhere else. That’s what I would do. There are of course much more drastic alternatives, but that’s a different problem. Also exercise, this will help your brain wake up from the feeling of pointlessness.

  24. Ambition driven by self doubt can make us downplay all our achievements and focus on the next target to the cost of any happiness.

  25. CopeWithIt

    I’m a writer. I have two novels on the boil that bring me a lot of joy. I haven’t earned a penny from it, or been recognised by anyone. Everything I send out comes back, so far. I don’t have an inner critic, but I have a lot of exterior ones. Lots of people want to know when I’m going to stop the romantic nonsense and knuckle down to the misery we all deserve. To each of them I give a polite response out loud and an unrepeatable one in my head. If you want to be a writer make space by prioritising it, above the domestic chores and the daily grind. Can you afford help? Agatha Christie had nannies, cooks and cleaners to free up her time. Stop putting everyone else first.

  26. SBee

    This is a really fun article. I’ve never seen these issues put into this perspective before, and I can definitely relate to some of the challenges they present!

    I’ve always taken the mindset that a truly awful first draft is better than no draft at all. I also find that, most of the time, once you’ve taken some time away from your writing it appears better with fresh eyes.

    I think one of the challenges is that as we grow older creativity seems to be more of a means to an end than a reward itself. As a kid, I would write ridiculous short stories and share them with everyone around me because I had fun writing them and that made them good in my eyes. Now, unless I’ve agonized over any piece of writing for hours, days, or even weeks, I can’t stand to have anyone else look at it. When did this fear of sharing develop?

    • Thank you! I think it can be hard to talk about the fears we face when writing, and (at least for me) thinking of them as little inner critics makes it easer for me to be honest about these challenges.

      I also completely relate to your comment about writing as a child VS writing today. I filled up so many notebooks with silly stories and wonderous worlds when I was young! I wish I still had that confidence and wonder. But we keep trying, I guess!

  27. My old writing mentor once said; the gap between what most writers think they deserve, and what they actually get, is normally an almighty chasm.

  28. What a great article! I absolutely loved this. I could definitely afford to incorporate these ideas into my own writing process as well.

  29. The greatest writer of all time was Socrates. He never wrote anything.

    • Samer Darwich

      Hello, Marty. At its essence, writing is about communicating ideas to others rather than simply placing words on documents or spreadsheets. By imparting his ideas through teaching and turning them into deeds, Socrates was expressing himself. He didn’t write his ideas on papers; rather, he somehow imprinted them in the minds of his students, passing them down through many generations.

  30. The stereotype of the suffering artist isn’t a general reality, but I do think being creative is easier if you’re feeling something difficult. It can create a powerful stream to travel in.

  31. gonna write a wrestling match where i duke it out against these archetypes.

  32. This is a really interesting way of viewing the writing process. I think viewing trying to write as being informed by these voice could be really useful.

  33. Stephanie M.

    I have a gatekeeper who will not shut the heck up.

  34. korvo

    I love that each of these critical voices all have their necessity as well. A good writer cannot be without any of these voices or there will be a lacking element. We need the Unruly Child to cheer us on and be passionate about our ideas, the Gatekeeper to make us criticize and reflect on our work, the Imagined Reader to have us consider the broader appeal of what we write, and the Technician to help make everything more coherent and refined. When they all work in harmony together, it can lead to something truly wonderful. Thank you so much for writing this article, it has given me a new way to visualize my creative process and the forces that both drive and hinder it.

  35. Samantha Leersen

    Firstly, I just want to say that I really like this article! The way you have written it is wonderful and engaging. The accompanying images are fun and light. Truly good work.
    But also, oh boy, each of these voices have made a home in my brain, and I don’t think I even realised it. I’m doing my master’s degree at the moment so all I have been writing recently is lengthy academic essays and I have struggled with each of the things you outline here.
    In my experience, the only way to beat those voices is to be under so much pressure that you have no choice. Writing upwards 7,500 words in the span of a week teaches you to ignore those voices. Admittedly, that may not be the most sustainable coping mechanism, though.
    This piece, I’m sure, has resonated with many, if not all, of our writers here at The Artifice. Great work!

  36. Often find myself wondering what exactly are these voices that tell me, “This is bad”, “That isn’t good enough!”, “Do better!” and while these can be helpful in improving my writing, they’re often overbearing. Writing a single word fills my mind with a million thoughts on what it means, mostly negative thoughts, but reading this reminded me that it’s a common issue many writers face, and it’s possible to overcome it. We don’t have to let them overcome us, and understanding them is the first step to overcoming them. Thank you for writing this.

  37. The Artifice is a pretty good place to put your Unruly Child because if you can turn an idea into a Topic, you can put that topic on the site and then someone will write about it, even if it’s not you.

  38. I recognized most of the personas mentioned in this piece except the unruly child but that is another story… I did question though some of the comments about the Technician and the comments about not worrying about grammar in initial drafts or notes. Probably because I have read too many student attempts at basic written communication, I feel that sloppiness at the initial stages of writing never really leave the piece. I agree that when you are jotting down ideas you should not treat it as a final draft, I also think that disciplined thinking will produce disciplined notes. I am a computer scientist and I know that sloppy thinking at the initial stages (requirements, specifications – all human language activities not technological ones) never is fully edited out. Constraints drive creativity and help with thinking and writing.

  39. Even as I write this comment I’m bombarded by those little voices of doubt. “You’re nowhere near as good as these other writers, quit while you’re ahead.” The world seems to constantly have writers under a harsh critical lens, far harsher than visual artists. As someone who tries to be an artist in all forms, I found that you can chop a painting up into a million different interpretations, but with writing? The words are already assigned meaning, so critics analyze you down to your spelling mistakes and often take what you write a face value. So what’s a writer to do? Simple. Write anyways. Write despite critical eyes and thoughts that watch your every word. Write until your words have entirely different definitions. Write until your poem is seen as beautifully complex as Van Gogh’s paintings. Write until you simply can’t write anymore.

  40. A well written article that adds new perspective to a topic that is often brought to light. The part about coping strategies for the gatekeeper remind me of how I will always skip the first page in a sketchbook to reduce some of that pressure when starting again.

  41. Harry P

    This article has filled me, and most of this comment section, with much enthusiasm and resolve to combat these various thoughts and personas that attack us during the writing process. I particularly resonated with your depiction of the Gatekeeper, which you describe as an archetype in its own right but with the ability to incorporate other internal critics in an attempt to stop the writing process before it even begins. Indeed, throughout my entire undergraduate I was in the intense vice that is this fear of writing. This was to the point that I would rather succumb to deeper (and darker) feelings of depression and self loathing than force myself to even THINK about writing. For me, it was only the looming threat of deadlines that urged me to push through and finish anything. I hope as I move onto my Masters I improve in that regard and I think recognising these “voices chattering in our heads” for what they really are can help remove the power they hold over us.

  42. I am definitely a Gatekeeper and think that the suggestions of how to get around this thinking were great, especially the suggestion to use the first draft as a brainstorming page rather than the “real” project or assignment. I know this will help me, for sure.

  43. Loved reading this. Great.

  44. seriouscourt

    Excellently articulated, Janice! I’ve definitely had all of these little mind-critics bouncing around my head at some point. I think the best advice for writing well is summed up in this line: “you won’t fail if you write something bad—you’ll fail if you don’t write at all!”
    The only way to improve is to keep pushing through, and this article is a lovely little shove in the right direction!

  45. Thank you for this article, it has given me a lot to think about.

    I find that my voices (mostly the Gatekeeper) come mostly when someone asks me “what do you do?” A question I really hate but also feel obligated to answer, I find myself biting my tongue before saying “I’m a writer.” It’s that Gatekeeper voice that says ‘hmm but what have you actually written?” In reality, while I have been published only twice (here is the voice again, I say only as if being published twice was easy!), I write all the time. In my journal, I send messages, I write down my thoughts on pieces of printer paper while it’s quiet at work. Why should those forms of writing be any less than the works I’ve published!

    Thank you again, I really needed this article in this current moment!

  46. I always love reading about the writing process. As a writer, I’m constantly trying to find ways to better not only my writing but also my process. I tend to flip-flop between the Unruly Child and the Gatekeeper. Which is quite difficult considering they are polar opposites. Sometimes I’m ready to write like a marathon runner, others I’m forcing myself to get the words onto the page. However, I almost always have a mental image of what I want to on the page.

  47. I certainly have a Gatekeeper yelling savagely in my head. She speaks not only when I’m writing, but when I’m reading, too. When I’m reading a good book, she snickers, “you could never write a sentence as good as that!” Or, “How beautifully written! You shouldn’t be a writer if you can’t come up with phrases like this.” Yes, she’s good at giving other writers compliments, but won’t ever dish one out to me. I think I have to force myself to use her to my advantage: it is the Gatekeeper who I must prove wrong.

  48. Feels like every time I’m writing a sentence for a book I’m essentially rolling a dice on which of those four voices decides to pop up. The amount of times I’ve thrown in a phrase in Latin or some other language and had the snap reaction of calling myself a pretentious dickhead is incredible, but the next sentence I write ends up being this imagined magnum opus that my overenthusiastic brain ends up forcing on and on for far too long.

  49. Well written. It is worth to read to know new form our inner critics.
    Thankyou janice.

  50. First off, it is such a relief to know that I am not the only one with those little judgemental voices in my head as I’m writing! Every sentence I write is punctuated by one of those voices judging it, and it’s super hard to shut them down sometimes (if at all). I think that the important thing is to yes listen to them, but only apply what they say if it keeps coming back to nag you. Sometimes it’s just spur of the moment thoughts that can easily be disregarded. I really enjoyed reading this article because it resonates with me as a writer.

  51. Zoe Odessa

    I really loved this article! You so articulately summarised and personalised the differing aspects of self judgement we feel as writers, and also managed to suggest ways to incorporate these positively into our writing process. I found this piece super helpful 🙂

  52. I love writing and miss it:) I’ve been considering writing a book. So this information really helps me dive in to ideas on how to find my audience. I have some ideas, but I’m also a little rusty. I did well in college with A’s and B’s because I was mostly writing, but it’s been awhile…

  53. Zak

    I took a university grammar class that was aimed towards editors, and as someone who also writes creatively, it took me months to get the constant ‘comma splice’ and ‘sentence fragment’ alarms out of my head. The quote by Laura R. Micciche about using grammar as just another tool for effective writing is one I have never heard verbalized, but that is such a great way to put it, especially because it doesn’t downgrade the importance grammar has in creative writing; rather than saying, ‘oh yeah, it’s an art so it’s all subjective and grammar is irrelevant,’ it frames grammar the same way plot and character are framed—as structural fundamentals.

Leave a Reply