The Writer’s Inner Critic: 11 Ways to Tell if Yours Is Healthy

Ah, the writer’s inner critic. It’s that wily inner editor who has such a way of getting in the last word (and first and middle words) on any writing session or project. Most of the time when writers speak of the inner critic, there’s a fair amount of self-deprecating exaggeration of how ruthless that little voice can be. We joke about the inner critic as a universal experience, but for many writers at one time or another, the inner editor can turn into a counter-productive tyrant.

And yet, as I wrote long ago, the inner editor is really a writer’s friend. When healthy, the inner critic is that guide in our heads showing us how to improve. Every writer needs an editor after all. Without a healthy inner critic, our writing would inevitably drown in a sea of self-indulgence. The critic in our heads drives us to be better, to discipline our technique, to exert the energy and effort to do our best—and then learn how to make it better.

So why do so many writers struggle with their inner editor? Ultimately, the problem, of course, is not the inner critic/editor or the fact we have one, but rather with certain toxic manifestations or patterns. In short: the problem is that the inner critic is all too often unhealthy. Even writers who are able to consistently access their healthy inner critic may still find that certain unhealthy patterns crop up in certain areas of their process.

The question I’m exploring today is how to increase the health and effectiveness of the very necessary inner critic while diminishing the unhealthy effects of unbalanced and ineffective toxicity.

6 Signs of the Unhealthy Inner Critic

1. Projects “Inner Critic” Outside of Oneself

Most of the time when writers talk about the “inner critic” or the “inner editor,” they’re referencing the unhealthy version, at least in part. When everything is clicking along smoothly up there in our writing brains, we usually don’t even think about the inner critic as something or someone who exists outside of ourselves. When the inner critic is healthy, it is not a “voice in your head”—it is you.

The toxic inner critic, however, is often a projection—an aspect of ourselves we’ve tried to separate into our “not-selves.”

  • The toxic inner editor may take on the voice of an early authority figure whose criticism shaped you.
  • It might take on the voice of a recent editor or critique partner.
  • Or, simply, it might present itself in the guise of “your readers” (who, in this instance, seem a very hard bunch to please).

Regardless, the voice is not you. You may not even believe in or agree with the criticisms, which are usually more personal in nature (e.g., “you suck”) rather than specific to the project (e.g., “you need write more active sentences in this chapter”).

Recognizing when the inner critic’s voice is not an integrated part of your own mind is helpful for undermining its power over you. The legendary Natalie Goldberg had much to say in her writings about the inner critic. In Writing Down the Bones, she noted:

The more clearly you know the [inner] editor, the better you can ignore it.

2. Focuses on Binary Ideas of Success vs. Failure

Usually, the unhealthy version of your inner critic is primarily concerned with binary ideas of success and failure. Either that rough chapter you just wrote is gold or (more likely) it’s tripe. The toxic inner editor knows few other distinctions.

When you find the voice in your head piping up with generalizations of your work, you can usually recognize this as a sign you’re engaged with the unhealthy version. In contrast, the healthy inner critic recognizes that art, like life, is extremely open-ended. Indeed, by its very definition, editing is supposed to about the ability to alter and improve things—over and over and over again. There is no true failure in art; there is only the decision by the artist at some point to move on.

In Wild Mind, Goldberg put it:

Failure is a hard word for people to take. Use the word kindness instead. Let yourself be kind. And this kindness comes from an understanding of what it is to be a human being. Have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure—there is just a big field to wander in.

3. Criticizes Without True Construction

If the true purpose of editing is to improve your writing, then the only successful editor is one who helps you achieve that. The only way an editor can accomplish that goal is by offering constructive criticism.

What exactly is constructive criticism? I think we often hear the phrase as basically “nice or kind critique.” But truly it is “a critique that constructs or builds.” If all your inner critic is doing is blindly and chaotically tearing down you and your work, it’s probably not building.

Now, it’s true that sometimes you have to rip down what doesn’t work before you can build something that does. But a healthy critic will first show you why the existing structure is faulty and needs to go. If that voice in your head is a demand to destroy with no guidance for how to build back better, that’s a toxic voice.

4. Shames or Guilt-Trips

At its most unhealthy, the inner critic not only undermines your confidence in yourself and your work, it even goes so far as to drag up feelings of shame or even guilt. Rooted in life patterns that go far deeper than the writing life, these feelings are usually very real and, as a result, very potent. But when examined objectively, they usually have no realistic grounding or context within the work itself. After all, is shame ever going to be a truly proportionate response to something as inconsequential as writing a dumb story?

The first step here is simply to realize that, however real the feelings of shame or guilt may be in your life, they probably have nothing to do with your writing. Even if you’re the worst writer in the world (which if you care enough to be reading a blog like this is highly unlikely), your writing is nothing to feel unworthy about. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, your incredible courage in writing at all would seem to indicate just the opposite. Regardless, try to disconnect the deeper feelings from the act of writing or from your inner critic. These feelings will still likely need to be explored, but realizing your writing isn’t legitimate fuel for them can be helpful in getting to their root and initiating healing.

5. Creates Writer’s Block

If you find your motivation for writing decreasing rather than increasing, that’s usually a pretty good sign you’re dealing with at least aspects of an unhealthy inner critic. Many different factors can cause us to flinch beneath the weight of even excellent criticism (from ourselves or others), but if that voice in your head is telling you, “You should quit,” rather than, “Keep going!” that’s a signal it’s unhealthy. (Of course, you must use your own judgment and knowledge of yourself. It’s always a possibility that a grounded and healthy inner voice may tell you your best course is to move on in the right time and the right circumstances.)

6. Other-Referencing More Than Self-Referencing

Finally, as indicated in Point #1 above, an unhealthy inner critic is usually more concerned with what others think than what you think. It’s the voice that tells you, “Your mom will hate this, your 3rd-grade teacher would hate this, your friends will hate this, your publisher will hate this, your readers will hate this.” Sometimes those thoughts may be true (and even, in certain circumstances, worth considering).

But you also have to ask yourself, “What do you think?” What do you really think about yourself, your story, your writing, and your current range of ability? The answer may be that, in fact, you do need to do some work. But it may also be that, in the face of anyone else’s disapproval, you’re actually quite happy and aligned with where you’re at. (Take that, inner voice!)

However, you may also find that you don’t know what you think. If, like so many people, you have relied on the inner critic to tell you who you are, it may take some significant digging to get back in touch with the true self-knowing that will tell you your own truths.

5 Signs of the Healthy Inner Critic

1. Neutral, Not Negative

So what does your inner critic sound like when it’s healthy and balanced? For starters, it may indeed still sound pretty critical. The difference is that the healthy inner critic’s voice will be emotionally neutral, not negative. It may tell you hard truths about your writing, things you don’t really want to hear. But it won’t do so from a place of belittlement. The healthy inner critic may say, “This story isn’t working, like, at all.” But it won’t say, “This story isn’t working—ergo you suck, ergo you should be ashamed, ergo you should probably just quit right now.”

Part of the journey to cultivating a healthy inner critic is learning not only to discern between neutral criticism and negative criticism, but also in learning how not to be triggered by useful neutral criticism. Recognize it for the help it is, bravely face the work it demands, and realize it is not passing judgment on you but rather just on the work of the moment.

2. Offers Questions More Than Answers…

I can always tell my inner critic is at its best when it is more inclined to ask questions rather than proffer answers. Part of this is for the obvious reason that because the inner critic is you, it really doesn’t know anymore than you do. Not consciously anyway. But a truly tapped-in inner critic is in touch with your intuition and instinct, and as such, it can gently nudge your conscious brain in the direction of new understandings and epiphanies.

When confronted by a tricky knot in one of your stories, you may not immediately know how to fix it, much less what’s wrong. After all, if you knew better, you wouldn’t have written it that way in the first place, would you? But intuitively, you probably do at least sense that something is wrong. By dialing in to a healthy inner critic in order to start asking questions about this story problem, you have the opportunity to organically learn something new that you didn’t know when you first wrote the story.

3. …But Focuses on Solutions Rather Than Problems

The above is not to say the inner critic never offers answers. But if it’s healthy, it will focus much less on what’s wrong with your story and much more on how to fix it. This is an extension of its ability to teach you through asking questions. Just in being able to ask that one question, “What’s wrong with this?”, you’re already much closer to the solution than if all the critic was offering was a blanket statement: “This is wrong. Fix it.”

4. Specific and Constructive, Rooted in Knowledge Rather Than Negativity

Again, the healthy critic is there to help you solve problems by offering insights that are constructive and specific. Many years ago, I remember reading a great guideline:

Generality is the death of the novel.

I believe the quote’s context was talking about using specific details and characterizations to bring your story to life. But the concept is just as true of criticism. If it’s general, it’s all but useless. If it’s specific, you can act on it.

The only way to cultivate an inner editor who can offer specific advice is by feeding it with information and knowledge. It’s true that if you’re very in touch with your intuition, your inner critic may be able to guide you with relative accuracy. But the more language you have available in your conscious brain by which to recognize, translate, and apply this intuition, the better your working relationship with your inner editor will be.

5. Expansive and Accepting

Finally, a healthy inner critic will be expansive and accepting—instead of constrictive and intolerant. It will not seek to lock you or your creativity into a pre-determined box of “correctness.” While accepting the existing boundaries of what seems to “work” and what apparently does not, it still primarily seeks to help you find a way to say whatever it is you are trying to say in the way that is best suited to you. For many writers, this is a life-long quest. It’s a difficult enough quest with a helpful and aligned inner critic. If that critic is getting in our way, the journey becomes all but impossible.

Goldberg, in Wild Mind, once again:

We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully; few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance.

Ultimately, the cultivation of a healthy inner critic stretches far beyond the writing desk and, indeed, opens up the potential for life-changing implications in overcoming personal patterns. Because writing offers such a unique conjunction of the creative brain with the critical brain, it is prime ground for exploring and working through this challenge.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What has your experience taught you about improving the health if your writer’s inner critic? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).


Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Christoph Kovacsics says

    I am totally surprised here by the notion that the inner critic can work for you and not only against you. I’ve been working years and years to eliminate my inner critic and now you wonderful podcast shows me that it doesn’t have to disappear. I guess I need some time to process this notion. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      What I’ve discovered is that sometimes we’re trying to chop off parts of ourselves that we really just need to make friends with.

      • Completely agree with Christoph and you on this! This post comes at a great time for me. I’ve been trying to explore more the notion of “just writing” and switching off the inner critic. I think that’s going to be really important for my writing, but I feel like this notion will help with that as it’ll be easier to tell my inner critic, “not now,” rather than, “shut up!”

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          One hack I use for “just writing” is timed bursts. I will set the timer for fifteen minutes and write as quickly as I can without editing. When the time is up, I can go back and re-read if I want. Then I’ll go for another fifteen minutes.

  2. Grace Dvorachek says

    Very insightful! The inner critic is something I’ve struggled with for years… partly because I never really recognized that the destructive and constructive voices I’ve heard inside my head were actually coming from the same thing. Now that I understand the inner critic better, I can be on my guard for when the destructive criticism comes, and watch for patterns that will help me distinguish how my inner critic became unhealthy. Thank you for another eye-opening post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, sometimes just getting nuance on something and being able to fillet out a more refined understanding of what’s happening can help us come up with more appropriate and effective solutions and responses.

  3. I think this applies to any critic/editor, not just your inner one. Awesome post!

  4. Rebecca Rhoads says

    Another excellent post, Katie. Writing is an exercise in overcoming self-doubt in the general sense. I constantly battle for authority over self-doubt while working to shape story elements into a coherent, engaging and hopefully successful novel. In my case it’s magnified by toxic self talk such as I’m too old to get published, my work is trite, no one will like what I’ve written. Ugh! But to not write is to deny the essence of my creativity. My mind simply won’t quit. That inner task master is the more compelling force so I keep plugging away, sentence upon sentence, denying the voices that tell me it’s in vain.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I constantly battle for authority over self-doubt.”

      I really like this phrasing. You can feel the groundedness of the available response just in using the word “authority” to approach toxicity.

  5. Thank you for this post, Katie. I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on how writers can set reasonable deadlines for personal writing projects (both for completion and the steps prior) and how they can know when to stop even when their healthy inner critics tell them there is more that needs to be done to get a project (or any given piece of it) to a place of excellence (not perfection). What can writers use to tap into their inner guidance to sense when to say, “This may not be the best book this could be, but it’s the best book I can write at this stage of my life within a reasonable amount of time.” Personally, I’m having difficulty sensing how a writer can gauge what a reasonable amount of time is, when that can be such a personal thing. Is it when the project loses momentum and you start losing joy for the project? Is it when the time you’ve devoted seems to outweigh the benefit of continuing to work on it? etc. etc. Thanks!

  6. Katie, I second Julie’s comments above. Have you ever felt a project is showing diminishing rates of return, and either junked it or taken in, in some way, public?

  7. Stian Kallhovd says

    Excellent article!

    I may be a weird case, but in the past (teens and early twenties), I lacked an inner editor when I really needed one.

    In my twenties, my inner critic would always tell me my story concepts weren’t working (and today I’m finally working on a story I’m SUPER-passionate about!).

    Today, in my early thirties, I have a more normal inner editor — very possibly because I’ve spent a long time learning the craft of writing (explored tons of online resources), so my taste in storytelling, as well as sentence structure, has been dramatically refined.


    I never really thought consciously about this, but I’ve actually developed my own writing process to better adjust to my editor: I spend a lot of time editing as I write, so that I can improve the quality of each scene, which also saves me a lot of work later.

    I am currently writing a screenplay. I believe scenes in a screenplay are more tightly connected than in novels. Therefore, if I change story details in an early scene of the script when the entire script is drafted, this could also require much editing in later scenes. It would be a ton of (meaningless) work, which I’d rather avoid.

    But now that I’ve read this article, I realize that at least subconsciously, my writing style is also an expression of my need to live with a very critical (but useful) inner editor.

    I can always tell that the efforts I put into editing/carefully considering the next sentence pay off. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You raise two really important points here.

      The first is that, as I mentioned in the post, your inner editor is only as story-educated as you are. Only once you’ve studied theory and technique enough to be able to analyze your work will the inner editor have anything specifically useful to say.

      The second is that learning how to harness the healthy aspects of the inner editor is very much about learning to work *with* the inner editor. This is a very individual process, since we each have very individual cognitive modes. Understanding your own brain and how *you* work best is a much more effective approach than for any one of us to try to shoehorn our preferred modes of working into someone else’s pattern.

      I’ve written about that some here:

  8. Eric Troyer says

    Great post! I think the time I hear my inner editor the most is when I’ve fallen in love with some fact, or phrase, or character, or bit of writing that isn’t essential to whatever I’m writing and doesn’t advance the story. Kill your darlings! But it’s so hard! Almost always, though, my inner critic wins and the story or article is better for it.

  9. Love the healthy/unhealthy verbiage! Before I retired from active therapy work, I did a program for fellow-writers to get them in touch with the non-writing drivers of the angry/negative critic, and eliminate them. Your point about the positives that we just don’t notice fits with that! When our inner editor is helping us, it’s just US. Perfect!! I would tell people that sometimes our inner editor is afraid because we are trying to do something we don’t know how to do. The useful editor tells us “get some education; learn how/what.” The harmful one just tells us we’re incompetent. I’ve walked away from stories I can’t write in order to focus on the ones I can; bless you, inner editor. And thank you so much for this brilliant post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Victoria!

      I feel like this is dead-on:

      “I would tell people that sometimes our inner editor is afraid because we are trying to do something we don’t know how to do. The useful editor tells us ‘get some education; learn how/what.’ The harmful one just tells us we’re incompetent.”

  10. Okay, my inner critic’s recent voice lines up with all of the “unhealthy” parameters. I guess I need to work on getting it straightened out. :/

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Celebrate that you’re able to recognize it! You’ve just taken the first step forward. 🙂

  11. Yes, it’s a delicate balance between listening to a healthy inner critic and not letting an unhealthy inner critic infect our writing practice.

    Personally, I prefer to think of what Steven Pressfield called ‘Resistance’ as a sparring partner rather than an outright enemy. Resistance helps me build my writing muscle when I think of it as a trainer rather than an evil.

    I suppose unconditional kindness towards my inner critic (kindness doesn’t always mean agreement, of course) is a way to increase its health.

    Another writer has indicated that at times his unhealthy inner critic has taken on my voice in his head which is… odd. However, I’m only responsible for what I say, not what other people’s inner critics say while borrowing my voice.

  12. “ After all, is shame ever going to be a truly proportionate response to something as inconsequential as writing a dumb story?”

    Thank you for this.

  13. Almost tempted to frame this one. The difference is pretty dramatic for me most of the time–if something isn’t working for me personally, it just feels like a puzzle to be solved rather than a reflection on my ability or the story as a whole.

    The unhealthy one is completely driven by others’ opinions and “shoulds”, and it’s usually harping on the story itself rather than its execution. “You should be writing something more serious/edgy/cerebral/angsty if you want to be a ‘real’ writer”. “You’re starting to like this character too much–they’re obviously a Mary Sue”. I wish I knew why that inner critic version was so dang persistent, but at least this helps to recognize it for what it is.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is so true. I rarely hear my unhealthy inner editor carp on specifics–like word choice, etc. It’s usually, as you say, those sneaky “should” statements that feel so overwhelming.

  14. Katie,
    You are right to point out that this goes well beyond writing. I think this folds back into the type of relationship you have with yourself. If that’s not a good one as a person, it’s difficult for it to be good as a writer. I started writing when I was on the older side, and had worked through a number of problematic things I thought of myself, or at least found a nice grazing range for them to go play in. At this point, my inner critic has the brutal, jarring voice of Mr. Rogers.

    What I struggle with is my inner idea generator. “Hey, what if I put this in?”, “Hey, this other thing would really be cool?”, “Wow, that article on psychology was really cool. Let’s mead it into the story!”… Do this enough and viola, your story is long and it’s not what you want it to be. I need to invent an inner save this for another story reflex. Perhaps a little stronger inner critic would help with this.

    That’s my thoughts on this. I apologize for not finding a way to castigate you for heartlessness this time, but there’s always next week.

  15. Lincoln Clark says

    Such an insightful take on self-evaluation. I find that the “shame and guilt” voice is one that, as you noted, does not belong to the true function of an editor. One speaker I remember pointed out that guilt is a feeling that we have done something wrong (not just incorrect or unhelpful, but morally wrong). Shame is a feeling that we ARE something wrong (which, if it worries you, is very likely untrue).

    Neither of those is healthy for growth or improvement in the craft of writing. Your picture of the healthy editor as an aspect of yourself which serves to build, encourage and improve, is spot on in my opinion. Not only that but when we can serve as critique partners for others, the same approach is the most helpful. Build up, encourage and help identify ways to improve. And do it with a smile. So let your left brain smile at your right brain. It will be deeply appreciated!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I remember talking to someone who tended to be especially hard on herself. I asked her, “Why do you talk to yourself that way? Would you talk to me that way?” She got a shocked look on her face and said, “No, of course not!” I think it’s valuable to realize we sometimes speak to ourselves in ways we would find categorically unacceptable coming from other people.

      • Lincoln Clark says

        I get that! My wife will often say to someone she knows who is berating herself, “Hey, stop talking to my friend that way!”

  16. Colleen F. Janik says

    Great post! I guess this subject is a challenge for most of us. In struggling with my current novel and having to restart AGAIN, the polite inner critic smiles and says, “Oh, we needed a better outline, didn’t we?” and then whispers loudly, “ha! what outline? You call that an outline?” Those little whispers are what create all the self doubt. Hard to shut them up.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I find those whispers are most destructive when they’re subliminal or partially so. If I can stop resisting them long enough to let the voices be heard–and pass through–I can often at least get at the root of whatever is motivating them.

  17. I listened to this again, and heard it differently. One of the things I find interesting that is not writing is psychology, particularly personality theory. Something I’ve picked up through that is that people who have the traits for creativity (openness) often tend to have the traits that lead to anxiety, self-doubt and depression. I’m not qualified to offer advice for dealing with anxiety beyond saying that I think it probably helps to know this is part of your make up, and to take it seriously in all its guises. If you are wrestling with these types of feelings, then I’d hope you’d look for help.

    And if you find yourself calling yourself worthless, well, if you’ve ever made a child laugh, comforted a friend, held out a hand to someone who is struggling, then that voice calling you is worthless is ill informed. Accept it’s ignorance, because we’re all ignorant, and find a way to accept yourself.

  18. Tom Youngjohn says

    All rise for the queen.

  19. Thank you Katie!!
    I have been wrestling with this balance since I started a new novel last month. I need to remember that “Grace” need be given in addition to the “Justice” my inner critic insists upon. In the end, that is the wiser path to success and completion!

    As I make plans to implement, I will take this rule of thumb: “if my critic cannot soon produce a solution, I should move on, and return when the draft is finished.”

    Thanks for the post! They are always helpful and uplifting!! 🙂

  20. Miriam Harmon says

    I think this might be my problem. Or it’s something similar.
    I’ve been trying to write a book for well over a year now, and I’m hardly getting any closer. I’m growing, I’m getting better, but…I’m not any closer to a finished first draft than I was before. Every time I work on a story, something goes horribly wrong or I get stuck at such a huge wall it scares me away to another story, which repeats the process. Over and over again. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t found the right story, if I keep making some mistake in my outlining that’s messing everything up in every story, or if I’m having some other problem. I know I’m afraid that once I write the story and publish it, I’ll get a better idea and wish I waited. But is that stopping me from finishing a story? Or is it an outlining problem, since every time I work through a story I find an actual block that’s too intimidating to get past?
    Does this make any sense?
    I love your advice and it’s made me a better writer. But I think I need help figuring out how to become an *author*.
    Thanks for reading

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The first thing I would suggest is perhaps taking the pressure off yourself to “publish.” Just write for yourself. Tell yourself no one but you is going to read it. And just try to have fun with it. If the main problem right now is that you’re *not* writing (or you keep false-starting), then I would focus on that. Don’t worry too much about plot holes and such until you’ve found a rhythm again.

      • Miriam Harmon says

        That’s a good idea. I’ll definitely try that. I love writing, but I definitely have been stressed with publishing that I guess I’ve forgotten how to *enjoy* writing, and I’ve gone and gotten afraid of writing too much. But you’re right. I’m writing to help and inspire people, but I guess I’m not helping anyone if all I’m doing is stressing myself out, am I?
        Thank you so much! Your advice has always inspired me to write to inspire others, so a billion thanks for helping me with that dream!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Later this year, I’m going to be posting about my own experience with this, in relationship to the “sophomore novel” phenomenon.

  21. John Browning says

    This is convergence for me. Here is another source talking about the inner critic and what to do about it.
    The Power Of A Better Question | Pastor Steven Furtick | Elevation Church
    Just some excerpts to pique interest:
    “Did God really say …?” easily becomes our negative inner critic.
    When you’re in the desert, you ask desert-level questions. It’s survival based. They are focused on limitation. “Did God really say you must not eat of any tree?” It’s a limitation-based question, but God wants me to teach you on the power of a better question, a loaded question. Do you know the phrase? A loaded question. It contains more than appears on the surface.
    It’s when you’ve been used to not having enough or you’ve been used to somebody else oppressing you or something else oppressing you. When you ask desert questions, you get dead-end answers. It doesn’t open anything up. If you want to be creative, if you want to get your teenager to talk, you have to ask something different.
    First of all, what are you doing asking your enemies what you look like?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “When you’re in the desert, you ask desert-level questions. It’s survival based.”

      I like that a lot.

  22. This was a great post! My inner editor definitely has a dark side. (A shadow editor?) My toxic editor is so much louder than my healthy editor. It definitely hooks into guilt and shame and sees everything as negative. If I have twenty good reviews, they like the work—and their voices vanish. If I have two bad reviews, they hate *me*—and I’ll be haunted by their words for years. Literally, I’ll be trying to sleep and will start remembering snippets from bad reviews.

    I’m struggling to write again. Readers have written to tell me they loved my latest book. One even referenced one of the bad reviews and said she didn’t see it that way at all and hoped I’d write a sequel. But it isn’t a loud as the toxic editor. I’m going to try to play again, but it’s hard. My healthy editor usually comes out when I’m enjoying what I’m doing, when I’m focused on creating rather than how the novel will be received. I’ll keep working on it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think you’re bang on in referring to the toxic editor as the “shadow editor.” The thing to remember about the shadow is that isn’t inherently bad or scary. It’s just the place where we’ve put all the parts of ourselves we don’t use. For most of us, there’s a lot potential for *great* editing skills hidden down there, if we just bring it out of the fear zone and back into the light.

    • Miriam Harmon says


      You know, if those voices are haunting you, you could always try using them as fuel to write better. Like, tell your inner editor that “we’re gonna prove them wrong!”
      And if you have at least one good review, that’s more than I—a currently unpublished writer—have. You’re already doing great. And if you’re writing anything, no matter how messy it is, that’s better than some published authors are doing right now. Tell *that* to your inner editor!

      • I appreciate your intention, but my writing isn’t messy. It’s not too bad. You’ll discover when you start getting reviews that sometimes people are simply cruel. I feel really confused about some of the criticism I get. Some people disliked—or hated—a character that starts off as kind of a jerk. Katie was kind enough to send me a great article on getting your readers to like your character from the start. I had already done some of the things she suggests in the article—yet people still disliked him. Some people. Others left reviews saying they liked that he grew after he came to love the other MC. One wrote to me to tell me she had read the story twice and loved both characters. She saw them as flawed people who came together and became better people because of it. The trouble is I keep dwelling on the mean people. I hear them the loudest. I should be jumping for joy that a reader took the time to email me and tell me how much she loved my book. Instead, I’m not writing.

  23. James+Warren says

    Hi KMW
    I am normally a nonfiction author but have, a few months ago wanted to write a fiction project just for fun and to try something different. But it has led to a specific problem. My knowledge. ( 🙂 ) I have approached many many teachers, but they all have a different way to solve the same problem. In terms of your blog, it makes me self-conscious as to whether I should have even started this venture. But I have noticed that what most other teachers have in common is that most of them refer to KMW as part of my research that she has a grasp on the problem at hand. (And this is not a pump, but a fact, that you should know.) I have started my novel seven full times. Every thing from first person, to third person past tense, which I think is omniscient narrator, to third person naive narrator, which I think is third limited narrator.I have started in different locations, in medias res. I have tried many other starts as well. I have finally settled on third limited. I have purchased many of your books and will try and use the one teacher, who they all go to from now on, and maybe that will solve much of my problems. I have the concept, premise, theme, outline, and a first draft of all my scenes. I also have the protagonist’s character sketch figured out. I think I will be following you exclusively from now on. Great blog. Thanks. JimW

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree with you: sometimes the writer’s greatest curse is knowledge! Those of us who start writing while we still “don’t know that we don’t know” sometimes have a leg up, since at least we can get a few finished (if terrible) stories under our belts before we start grappling with all the many nuances of the craft.

      You might find this post of interest:

      Very glad to hear you’re enjoying the info!

  24. James+Warren says

    I am so sorry. I made a boo-boo in my above comment. I stated that, “In terms of your blog. . .” It sounded as if your blog was at fault for my problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it should have read was, “In terms of your blog, it made me aware of my inner-critic.” It’s really hard for me to write past something I know is wrong. Many teachers say “Get it written, not right.” Do you have any teaching on MRU’s. Thanks for paying forward what you have learned to the rest of us, and again, sorry for the typo mistake.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No worries. 🙂 The last thing I want is for people to get bogged down in the technique or theory, but sometimes it is a part of the path. At least it was for me. 😉

  25. Miriam Harmon says

    Quick question for future posts:
    Is there any way you could write a post on how to lead people to Christ in stories? Like, there’s how Narnia does it where it’s more subtly and indirectly referencing it, and then there’s Wingfeather which says it right out and sort of bases the story around Him. And then there’s War Room, which is entirely about leading people to God. I’ve heard you mention on this blog that you make small references in your stories. Any chance you could give us some tips? I can’t find any other coaches that talk about it.
    Thanks for reading

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      For me, the first consideration in how explicit faith, or any type of message, is in any story is always the characters and the setting. I would always want it to be a natural and authentic aspect of the theme and the characters’ arcs. I’d much rather it be subtextual than on-the-nose or preachy.

      One thing to keep in mind is trying to address meaty themes from a place where the characters *don’t* have a handle on things. Readers are much less likely to find subjects preachy and much more likely to relate to them if the characters are struggling through them. In essence, the characters are asking questions, not necessarily providing answers.

    • Grace Dvorachek says

      I have experimented with this, and though I’m certainly not an expert on the subject, I have done a bit of research. For my own writing, I try to start with God, rather than sticking Him in wherever He fits. So for a Positive Change Arc, for example, when I go to make the MC’s Lie I will typically have him have a misconception not only about the world, but also about God or things pertaining to God. That way, the spiritual aspect of it is now naturally a part of the inner conflict. Then the entire story flows better because the gospel is a natural part of the story rather than a separate thing.

      As to not sounding too preachy, I would say that symbolism is definitely a key. Symbolism is underestimated in its ability, I think, and can be used to make some great points. Also, recognize that readers are smart, and can often read between the lines. So sometimes saying less is better… you don’t always need to do an in-depth paragraph to clarify yourself (of course, this applies to more than just spiritual matters in a story).

      I could go on about the subject, but those are just some of my thoughts on it. Some of this also has to do with my own style and writing process, so it might not necessarily be the same for you. However, I hope it helped a little!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.