Ever heard the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility”? That applies directly to you as a writer. See, we storytellers are really good at imagining things. Unfortunately, that means we’re also really good at screwing ourselves up.
Your Muse’s Secret Identity
I talk about your inner critic a lot (that guy is such a jerk).
I’ve also encouraged you to ignore your capricious muse because it’s totally unreliable.
Today, I’m here to tell you your muse and your inner critic are the same thing.
Hear me, fellow writer: your imagination has two maks—your muse and your inner critic.
Your muse is your inner critic. Your inner critic is your muse. Let me explain how.
Your Muse is Moonlighting
Writers are creative. It’s one of the key skills that makes us what we are. We have the ability to see connections between people’s stories, to follow the threads woven through pain, joy, victory, or loss. We understand character development and plot points on a gut level, even if we can’t verbalize them—which is why our taste is good enough to tell when a story is great. You—the writer—are creative.
This means you have a good imagination.
Our imagination is our muse. The muse not a separate thing that we can take off and hang on the hatrack. It’s not even inspiration, though that can super-charge us creatively. Imagination—the muse—is as much a part of us as love, hate, fear, and courage.
Imagination means you’re capable of seeing things that don’t even exist, of a future that’s every inch as vivid as the present we’re in now.
Here’s why this matters: when your imagination turns sour, it gives you vivid, horrifying scenarios about your writing—and since you are a gifted storyteller, those scenarios are believable.
I’m saying that again.
When your imagination turns sour, it gives you vivid, horrifying scenarios about your writing—and since you are a gifted storyteller, those scenarios are believable.
- Do you picture yourself losing friends or family because someone didn’t like your writing? Congratulations—that’s your muse acting up.
- Have you desperately feared you’ll end up some kind of wandering, unpublished weirdo, waving a six-inch-thick manuscript nobody wants? That’s your muse being vicious.
- Ever fear that if you try your absolute best to write a book, your absolute best will turn out to be mediocre, robbing you of hope? That is your imagination in the form of your muse, frothing at the mouth and ripping off your leg.
Your muse is your inner critic, and boy, does it speak with power.
The Power of Your Doubts Demonstrates Your Skill
When you’re filled with doubts (“Can I? Will I ever? Am I good enough? What will they say?”), understand that those doubts are so powerful because your natural storytelling ability is giving them power.
Your doubts are proof you can do this. The power and persistence of your fears are proof you can be a writer.
You may need to hone your skill. Maybe you need to learn grammar and punctuation. Maybe you need to read more and see what’s already out there. Those are all doable items that have nothing to do with your skill level.
How good can you be as a writer? Well, answer that by answering this: how effective are the doubts your muse/critic tells to scare you?
Pretty scary, right? That’s how good you can be, and if your monstrous fears are anything like mine, then that means you can become a damn good writer.
The Mask is Off: Time to Take Control of Your Fear
Part of me hated writing that headline because I know there’s no one-step “easy” button to take control of writer-fear.
Here’s the thing: by knowing that your fears are your storytelling brain working against you, you’re gaining a tool to fight those fears off.
You already know the difference between reality and imagination.
- Non-fiction writer: you’re capable of distinguishing between the speaking engagement you hope for Someday In The Future and your current status as unpublished-but-driven.
- Fiction writer: you’re capable of distinguishing between the world of dragons/vampires/merpeople in your head and the actual non-magical person helping you at the post office.
You already have the ability to take the good things your imagination gives you and tuck them out of the way so you can function. Now, you need to do that very same thing with the bad things.
You Can Become a Writer
So long as you’re willing to learn and work hard, you can tell your story. You can write the book you need to write. It’s going to take courage. It’s going to take discipline. That’s true for us all.
There is no easy button, but there are others on this same path. It’s important to hang out with other folks who regularly fight the same fears and doubts. (Note: I HIGHLY suggest joining a writing community. I personally love Becoming Writer so much I dedicated my newest book to it.)
You can do this, fellow writer. Take the tool I just gave you (picture it however you like—I favor a shovel, myself) and use it to beat back those doubts. Your inner critic (that jerk) is just your muse bein’ freaky. And if those fears are powerful, take heart: it means you have one heck of a skill for telling a story.
Now it’s time to get to work.
What are some of the doubts your muse-in-a-mask has tossed your way? Let us know in the comments.
Which piece has your muse-turned-critic scared you away from doing? That’s the one you need to tackle now.
Take the next fifteen minutes and work on the book or story that scares you most.
The more powerful your fears and doubts are, the more storytelling talent you have. You can do this! Share your practice in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers.