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Shoot the critic, save the dream

Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba (featured in the photo above) live with me for free. They have for years. Why would they want to leave? I feed them well; they live in luxurious surroundings; I never question anything they say or do; I always listen to their advice; and they live, as I mentioned, rent-free.

Let me make a formal introduction: Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba (short for O-bloody and O-blood-ah) are my resident critics. They have an opinion about everything, all the time. When I began writing about seven or so years ago, they showed up right along with the first words I typed. Mrs. Oba is the passionate one and her first words to me were, “Ah, such a talented writer you are but this, this that you are typing, does not show that. Try again.” I took it to be encouragement. She was a Miss then. A few months later, she got married and Mr. Obe showed up. He’s the realist and can even drown her out (which is hard to do). His comments and insights always have razor-sharp focus and hurt as much as a sharp razor would on soft skin. “This, you call this writing? Wait till your editor reads this, it is going to be all over for you.”

I listened to them. I stopped writing. I found other things to do—I played games, I visited with my friends on social media, I cleaned my house. I loved getting assignments and dreaded writing them. I dreamt that Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba were sending secret notes to my editors, telling them how awful I was. I spent hours envying successful writers who (I believed) never had to deal with Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba. How lucky they must be?

Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba were helping me fail. Fast.

Out of sheer desperateness, and to try to at least attempt to make a living at this new craft, I began to read up everything I could find on how to make the internal nonsense stop. It had to. It was destroying what was left of my nonexistent self-esteem.

Nothing seemed to work. They laughed at all my attempts at meditation, despondent prayers and piles of self-help books.

Out of sheer panic, I decided I needed an intervention. A funny thing happens when you are an adult: you have to learn to take care of your demons because no one else can do it for you.

I began to call people I considered successful to ask how they dealt with their demons. Many said it was hard, some said they had no time for demons they were so busy. It occurred to me—and this may sound really stupid to you all—but it occurred to me that I had actually created and welcomed Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba in my life. They did not show up on their own. It sounds really idiotic to say that but to me it was eye-opening: they were there because I allowed them to be there.

I remember writing down on a piece of paper that having demons was a luxury. It was an excuse I was using to not face the paper every day. I was letting them define my life. They had served their purpose: to remind me that humility was important, to show me that nothing was going to be easy and that good writing took a lot of work. I had learned my lesson.

Then one day I began to write about a topic I was totally fascinated with. It was a topic close to my heart: fear of failing. I wrote the story in a rush. The words flowed, there were no edits, there was no stopping, I wrote fast and wrote strong. And when the story was done, it suddenly occurred to me that Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba had not made their customary appearance that day. Sick day, perhaps?

These days, when I write (which is daily), I write fast. I do not analyze or edit or even think until whatever I am writing is in a draft form. I force myself to keep my fingers moving, just moving, pouring out words. I don’t stop. I write like I am trying to save my life. Which, in some ways, I am. I have begun to spend time meditating in the mornings and at night. It helps clear the white noise where the critical couple once lived. Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba, I have to tell you, have moved to a beach-front home somewhere, and show up only occasionally to pay their respects.

Just today, though, I heard a knock on my mental door and it was a new couple, Mr. Ooh and Mrs. Aaah. They are distant cousins of Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba and were here, they said, to ooh and aah over my writing, since they had heard I had a rent-free space available. I smiled at them. I had learned my lesson. I was no longer renting space. The space is no longer available: an aspiring writer lives there now.

While I don’t have the luxury of renting out to critics, I don’t have the bravado to rent it out to cheerleaders either.

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Comments

  1. Wow, Monica – this is a wonderful piece of writing and reminder. Thanks so much for writing it!

  2. Brilliant…a piece of art…so well written and hilarious…Thanks Monica…Let your pen flow out !

  3. Just fabulous. Thank you.

  4. Very kind! Thank you, Elaine!

  5. How did you know? Truth, told with kind, powerful, witty words. Thankyou.

    • Thanks, Nancie. it was not easy to write.. Obe and Oba don’t want to go away that easily.

      • Nancie told me about this post and I rushed over here to read it as we all live with these evil demons. They make us doubt ouselves then they force us to procrastinate, find other more “immediately necessary” things to do instead of write, and push half-written pieces to the back of the pile with a heavy sigh. Thanks for your wonderful words and story; it truly encourages me! Now….focus….and write!

  6. You’ve found a way to defeat not one, but TWO inner critics. It’s funny: my inner critic was always harsh–it never couched anything gently like your Mrs. Oba. But I can see how even that kind of internal editing can be just as restricting and limiting.

    Thanks for yet another inspiring post.

    • She is actually worse because you don’t see it immediately. If someone is cussing loudly, it is easy to tell them to go to hell. it is the soft-spoken, sweet ones that really mess with your head.

  7. LOVED this piece!!, Its a great idea to put a name to those negative cobwebs that seem to hang around the rafters in the brain!

  8. This is so inspiring, to know the way you have managed your way through it…demons are everywhere, but to distinguish between the destructive and constructive ones at times is very difficult…Thanks for such a nice insight in such light manner!

  9. Absolutely fabulous! How clever to use this metaphor. It really hits home terrifically. I’d say the oohs and aahs have it.
    Bravo!

  10. I used to have a jar. I wrote down the word EDITOR on a piece of paper and put it in the jar, up on the shelf. That’s how I keep my editor/critic at bay.

  11. Great piece! I’ve earned my living by writing (screenwriting) with my husband for nearly 30 years. Turn off the phones, tune out the voices and get rid of anything that seems like bad juju is what I do. I’ve learned to be careful as to what I let in between my ears.

  12. Brilliant piece, Monica! Every aspiring writer should read this.

  13. I love the idea of writing quickly in order to keep the critics out (or just not let them get a word in edgeways). Love Aadip’s idea too. That would work. Polly

  14. Great piece. Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent” – the demons you talked about, both inside us as well as I think those around us in real who discourage us, they all exist and say things and make us feel inferior because we let them.
    I liked the last part the most – if you don’t let some people let you down, you don’t get carried away by some other people’s flattery either :-)

  15. I cried when I read this because my own Mrs Oba and Mr. Obe have been relentless. I am going to print this off and paste it by my desk. Thank you for your vulnerability in your writing. I look forward to following your blog and learning from you, not only new and exciting recipes, but of your wisdom.

  16. Thanks for this piece, Monica. My own demons sit on my shoulder every time I sit down to write, pointing out what a fraud I am and how much better every one else is, undermining my every word. Writing is a solitary craft and because of that it’s easy to forget that most others have similar voices in their ears. It is always heartening to ear that those we look up to are mere mortal like ourselves.

  17. Roger Kimpton says:

    Brilliant, thank you!

  18. Dear Monica – when this popped into my email in box, I remember having read it when you first wrote it. But thank you again for sending it my way. I am in desperate need of an intervention and this could not have come at a better time. This time round, I am printing it out and reading it daily.

    Wishing you and your family a truly happy new year, health, joy and peace in 2014. xo

  19. You always know what to say, how to say it, in this case how to write it. You are so inspiring. My day is not complete without checking in on your site or page. Thanks for the wisdom and advice, my friend. Be well and be happy, Monica :-)

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