Writer’s Block? Use the Whiplash of Your Inner Critic to Make It Across the Drawbridge

By Milli Thornton

THREE DAYS BEFORE Christmas, 2003, I was sitting in Wired! coffee house with Theresa and Daniel, two members of the Taos, New Mexico Fertile Material Writing Circle.

We were in the throes of what we always do in these writing circles, which is to pick a writing prompt from my book, write for about 45 minutes, and then take turns reading our stories out loud to the group.

(Ironically, the prompt we were working with that day was “Schmuckdom Never Pays.”)

Over the years I’ve had tons of fun in the writing circles. But, like most other writers, it’s not all wine and roses. That’s when I have to remember to use some of my own techniques—or tricks I’ve picked up in my travels—to break myself out of the funny farm.

(By the way, how come it’s never actually funny when you’re in there?)

This particular day I used the trick where you allow your Inner Critic to speak. Not simply to speak but to slander you; to paint a grisly picture of how woeful you are as a writer.

I find that the less you censor it (even though it’s mean and horrible) the bigger breakthrough you’re likely to have.

And I did. After I wrote this drivel (see below), suddenly the clouds opened up and the sunshine of a story idea poured through. I ended up writing something funny and even feeling good about my story. My companions liked it too.

The thing to remember is this: You are never going to feel like you’re about to have a breakthrough. I certainly didn’t. My skin was crawling with self-loathing and I could not see a light at the end of the tunnel.

You just have to keep going and trust that your feelings will change.

Here’s what I wrote that day:

I’m the leader of my own writing group, a group that uses writing prompts I invented, but I sure don’t *feel* like a writer. I feel completely unmotivated to come up with a story line.

Theresa and Daniel are sitting across from me writing furiously . . . thank God at least my prompts work on the other members of the group. I’m only writing this crap so I won’t distract the real writers when they see me staring blankly at the wall for the entire writing session.

Teresa’s already on the second page of her story. Maybe the caffeine from my breve will kick in soon and I’ll be struck with inspiration. Ha.

If I could somehow rustle up a story idea I would try to do something different with the character Caesar—the Chihuahua that gives Mr. Schmuck such a headache.

Now Daniel has also turned the page. And Teresa’s on page three of her story! Maybe I can content myself with watching others derive pleasure and value from my writing prompts. In that way at least, Fear of Writing has been a success, even if only on a small scale.

On the way to our writing circle I stopped to rent some videos. The second one I picked out was Gaby, the true story of a woman who was born with cerebral palsy and could communicate only by wriggling a toe, yet she went on to become a best-selling writer. I feel like a failure already just from reading the blurb on the back of the movie. Here I am, with all my senses intact, all my limbs in working order and a book full of writing prompts—so what IS my excuse??

Why can’t I feel more joy when it comes to writing? Everything feels like an over-chewed piece of bubble gum.

In the land of Schmuckdom, I rule.

Not sure how much it comes across to the reader, but I was feeling shame and low self-esteem (low? make that rock bottom) as I wrote this. But after I wrote the last line, somehow my mood shifted. Suddenly I was on fire to write the story that came flooding into my mind.

I believe this technique works for the following reason: while your Inner Critic stretches out and revels in its power trip, the subconscious mind tiptoes gently and slips in under the cracks.

Once the imagination takes over, the balance of power has shifted. And that’s all you need.


P.S. If you have a copy of Fear of Writing, you’ll find the writing prompt “Schmuckdom Never Pays” on page 203. In the e-book, if you’re using the arrows to move between pages, it’s on page 213.



Fear of Writing by Milli Thornton

Fear of Writing: the e-book



Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

4 Responses to Writer’s Block? Use the Whiplash of Your Inner Critic to Make It Across the Drawbridge
  1. LMEighmy
    June 16, 2009 | 8:46 PM

    I've never heard of this technique, but it seems crazy enough to actually work! 😀

  2. Glynis
    June 17, 2009 | 1:14 PM

    I think I am going to search out an expat, writer's group here in Cyprus, it sounds a good idea.
    I love the way you wrote about NOT writing 🙂

  3. Armelle
    October 7, 2011 | 4:44 AM

    I love your “Everything feels like an over-chewed piece of bubble gum.” I just feel exactly like that quite often. As if everything had lost interest. There is nothing new, nothing exciting, so what’s the use, more or less.
    Thank you for your insights, will try that right now!!

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 8, 2011 | 9:48 PM

      Hi Armelle,

      So glad you found this post helpful. If you try it, please let me know how it went for you.

      I hope it helps with your over-chewed bubble gum feeling. 🙂

      ~ Milli

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