Louise Penny on Silencing the Writer’s Inner Critic
By Jennifer Shenouda
For some, what begins as a case of writer’s block can quickly evolve into full-on writer’s paralysis, the inability to move forward with a project due to an author’s crippling self-doubt.
Perhaps it’s a misguided form of self-protection to imagine the worst possible reaction to one’s work before it happens—if only to lessen the blow of not getting it right the first time (or second, or third, or fourth). Nevertheless, it is a feeling all too common for authors; an affliction affecting both the best-selling and the just beginning in surprisingly equal measures.
Yes, if anyone were able to successfully kick their own inner critic to the curb in favour of productivity, surely, one imagines, it would be writer Louise Penny, the best-selling author of the Chief Inspector Gamache series.
But Penny, who recently visited Kobo to talk about her latest novel, The Long Way Home, revealed that writing openly, from a space where she allows herself to make mistakes hasn’t always come easy for her.
Recalling the difficulty she faced writing the second book in her now famous series Penny highlighted the fear of wanting to make everyone happy,
“I wrote the entire first draft seeing the deadline coming and I wasn’t happy at all because I was writing from a place of terror, of wanting to please, and I realize how much the opinion of others has driven me in my life and it wasn’t serving me well.”
For the author, it was only when she sought professional help through a therapist that she was able to start silencing her own inner detractor, “The wrong person is writing the book” her therapist pointed out to her “your critic is writing the book.”
As Penny found, while you can appreciate and even honour your inner critic for what it’s worth, ultimately you have to show it the door so that your creative spirit can take over.
Indeed, the creative spirit is a theme that is closely echoed in her latest book. Clara, the novel’s heroine, a celebrated artist in the fictional town of Three Pines, has her work referred to by a friend as a “dog’s breakfast” in it’s early stages of creation, hinting that it isn’t always pretty.
Clara achieves her success not by following the rules but rather through experimentation and tapping into raw emotion, admitting even to herself that “her paintings start off as a real mess. The worst her paintings looked at first, the better they seemed to turn out.”
Similarly, Penny has remarked of her own writing process “by the time I come to the end of the first draft, I’m fairly sure what the gems are. I just have to go searching for them.”
It’s a lesson that can be of use to both the seasoned writer as well as those who are just starting out. To write from a place of acceptance rather than fear, to (in Penny’s words) ”give myself permission to not be perfect, to make mistakes.”
How often do we allow ourselves to truly write with abandon, to follow our gut first without worrying what the end result will be? To write for writing’s sake and then, as Penny does, mine for the gems in later drafts until one has finally arrived at something?
Even as I write this blog post, my own inner critic is worried that I haven’t captured the exact sentiment that Penny expressed in her interview. But maybe that’s the point she was trying to make, that in order to write from the creative spirit you have to be brave enough to risk getting it wrong.