Writing With A Monkey On Your Back: The Fear Of Bad Writing

Are you dealing with an inner critic? Stop expecting immediate perfection. You'll write more, and you'll write better.

Writing with a monkey on your back that's criticizing your work?For a long time, I was writing with a monkey on my back.

You may think that means I had some type of iron-claw drug addiction.

And the problem was iron-claw, but it wasn’t related to drugs. My monkey was an imaginary critic.

It was a loony little beast that peered over my shoulder giggling, clapping and dancing around while he made fun of my writing.

In my mind, he didn’t clown me by himself. That little bastard put word on the wire. It went viral, and people were snickering and laughing all over the place.

Living with that imaginary critic was torture. It’s the closest thing to schizophrenia I’ve ever experienced.

And yeah, it was completely made up, but until I shook it, the effects were real.  It stopped me from writing as freely or as often as I wanted.

Writing With An Imaginary Critic

I would polish everything in my head before I dared put it on paper. If there was going to be evidence of what I had done, I was determined that the record would be good.

That fear of writing badly kept me from writing a lot of things that could, but do not, exist today. If only I had gotten the ideas down when they came to me, I could have made them shine later.

But I didn’t. I gave in to irrational fear.

Shaking the Imaginary Critic

If you’re struggling with a monkey on your back, be strong and carry on. Dig and grab wherever you have to to find sanity and logical thinking so that you can write.

Remember, when you’re getting the words out, it’s not about good or bad. It’s about doing versus not doing.

Before you start obsessing and perfecting, you need to do the writing. It’s natural to want to see things done right from the very beginning, especially when you are the one doing those things. But perfection on-demand is not realistic.

Pages filled with errors and unpolished thoughts are an ugly scene. I have old notebooks and files that make me cringe. But the truth is, the creation process, more often than not, will be rough, sloppy and raw.

If you can remember rules from your English classes about punctuation and conjugations and all that good stuff, certainly you can remember the process of writing rough drafts then second drafts then final drafts.

Don’t’ forget that’s how writing is done.

Legend has it that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in twenty days stop, typing on a continuous roll of teletype paper. What most people don’t know, however, is that the original manuscript was practically unreadable; it took five years to get it into shape.

~Joel Saltzman~

No matter how talented you are, no matter how much you sharpen your skills, you don’t outgrow the process.

Don’t become a victim of irrational expectations.  There’s no monkey. There are no critics who can see what you write as soon as you write it. There’s no judge or judgment for laying down imperfect copy.

Allow yourself to write badly at the start if that’s how the words flow. Go back and fix it later. You’ll get a lot more done.

2 Comments

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  1. 1
    Mary

    Yes, I try hard to keep the monkey traps out, but for some reason they keep swinging past the trap door, only to taunt my self-conficence by putting their hands under their arms and sticking their big lips outward along with their white tongues and making a tremendous racket. So much so, that I just have to lay down my pen until the noise plays out. It is only then that I can start again, while thinking I’m totally out of my league. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and words on self confidence. As soon you figure out how to get those monkeys into the trap, I would like a copy of your notes. Until then, I will keep tapping random thoughts without a purpose and justifying it as personal expression, and calling it art.

    • 2
      Miche

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your comment.

      What I’ve figured out is you DON’T put the pen down. You keep going whether the monkeys are in the trap or not. You decide that if you’re out of your league, then so be it, you’re just going to be out of your league because you’re determined to get things done. Once you’ve finished, you may find that what you wrote isn’t so bad after all. Or even if it’s crappy, you’ll be living proof that crappy writing doesn’t kill you. Then you can proceed to step 2, fixing it up. The key is just to keep going no matter what.