You’ve taken your easel and paints to the seaside to create and express yourself in the glorious sunshine. It’s a Sunday, and you’ve all the time in the world. It’s a dream of yours to paint and this is, for you, the start of a new adventure. But within 20 minutes of settling in to the task, you’re cursing yourself for having begun. You can’t paint. That looks like a big blob, a mess. What were you thinking! You haven’t been to art school. You know nothing about art. You don’t even know where to start. In hurried motions, you’re seen upon the horizon bent over your new wooden paint box, now dripping in blue paint, red-faced and furious. Never, never again will you paint.
Author Julia Cameron admits to being attacked by a similar voice every time she writes longhand from her writing room in Santa Fe. She proposes a new book idea and her inner voice sniggers: It’s a bad idea... You’ll never pull it off. Cameron, who has written over 40 books, says the censorious voice of her inner critic is present even now after 30 years of writing every single day. “As a younger writer, I might have allowed myself to become so discouraged that I would have abandoned the project,” she writes in her book The Artist’s Way for Retirement. “Older and wiser, I found myself angered,” she admits, fuelling her resolve to continue to write no matter what her inner voice says.
A method Cameron employs to lessen the power of her inner critic is to name it, even to conjure up an image of it in her head. Cameron’s inner critic is called Nigel. “I have learned to say, ‘Oh, hello, Nigel! What don’t you like this time?’” Similarly, she encourages her writ- ing students to name the critic that’s holding them back. Is it a male or a female? How old is it? What does it look like? She makes them sketch a caricature of the ghoul inside that’s standing between them and their dreams. “Humour is welcome here! Drawing, naming, and describing the nasty creature will automatically minimise its power over your life,” she writes in her book.
“For many this inner voice is a formidable foe,” she continues. “We have often spent many years buying into the censor’s negativity - believing what it says and using that negative belief to talk ourselves out of projects.” I’d love to learn to play the guitar. You’re too old to learn the guitar. You’ve got to start in primary school if you want to be any good at it. I’d like to go to India to learn yoga. Nah, you’re not flexible enough.
“Just because the censor says something does not make it true. And the more actions we take on our own behalf that defy its doom- and-gloom predictions, the stronger we become. Actions build upon themselves. Each creative step we take gives us energy and guides us towards the next one”, Cameron writes. “So start your project, yet be alert for the censor’s attack. Do not be discouraged. The censor is a jerk.”