My inner critic is confused.
For the nearly six months I was working on the first draft of The Polaris Uprising, I kept her locked in a room, with nothing but jigsaw puzzles and Angry Birds to keep her entertained. Occasionally, I’d let her out to take a whack at a particularly egregious typo (I couldn’t let her muscles atrophy, after all–I needed her in tip-top shape when I unleashed her for the editing process), but for the most part, I was pretty disciplined about keeping her in that room, no matter how many times she’d bang on the door and beg me to unlock it.
But then the editing process came, and I set her free, and boy did she have a field day. How she mocked me with her cruelty and hinted I was a hack writer with flat dialogue and repetitive phrasing and plot holes the size of Rhode Island. I bowed to her whim, fixing everything I could, pouring out blood, sweat, tears to get to a draft that was a far cry from what it was when I first typed “The End” (ok, I never actually used those words, but you get my meaning). It was a grueling process, but one that brought me results I was proud of, and when it was all over, I thanked my inner critic for all her hard work, and then…
… forced her back into the room and locked it up again, because I had a new first draft to write as I begin book 2.
She’s in there now, whining and pouting, calling me all sorts of nasty names. I can hear her still. The thing is, she had a taste of freedom, and she was enjoying it a little too much. Now she’s back in her room and the jigsaw puzzles ain’t cutting it, and she wants out again.
That’s the thing about switching gears. You get used to one thing, and you start to get proficient at it, and then you change things up again, and it’s like starting at the beginning. In theory, I know it’s not the absolute beginning; I know I’m starting from a far stronger foundation than I did before. I know this world. I know its people. I know the story inside and out, backwards and forwards. I’ve constructed a story structure that’s very sound, mapped out a character journey that’s compelling and (hopefully) moving. And yet, all my inner critic can focus on is the crappy words I’m producing right now, and she’s sure letting me know it (even from way inside her locked room).
It took me a while to get good at learning to ignore her. I suspect it’ll take me just as long this time, too. Beginnings are especially hard; it’s where I struggle most in a story (once I get in my groove though, man, there is no stopping me!). But the only way to get through it is… to get through it. Just keep hacking away at it. Eventually, she’ll get bored and go back to putting together those puzzles. She’ll leave me in peace to just get this draft down, knowing I’ll let her out eventually so she can have a field day with it. I’m in those negotiations with her right now.
Until then, it’ll be painful for both of us.
At least until I let her out again temporarily after I get my editor’s feedback on book 1 and need to shift gears again back to editing mode–boy that’s going to be fun. But then, back in she’ll go, and hopefully she’ll give me a good 5, 6 months of harassment-free writing.