Silencing Your Inner Jerk: Writing and Perfectionism

Many, many people before me have written about how to deal with the “inner critic” but, personally, I’ve never liked that term very much. To call the voice that tells me day in and day out that I have not written enough (and that what I have written belongs deeply buried in the world’s smelliest landfill) a critic just seems to be giving it too much credit and legitimacy. So I call my inner critic The Jerk, and if yours is as troublesome as mine, then it could probably use a good shutting-up. But the first step to solving any problem is admitting that you have one, and The Jerk is really good at pretending that he’s helping you, not driving you toward an inevitable creative breakdown.

The Jerk is so good, in fact, that I spent a good portion of my life in denial that I was letting him call the shots. For a long time it was easy, because everyone around me was telling me what a easy-going, chill, go-with-the-flow, type B sort of person I was, and perfectionism wasn’t included in the picture they painted for me. It wasn’t until I got a good ways into college and started taking my writing more seriously that I reached my shut-down point. I hated writing because The Jerk had convinced me that everything I created would make any reader nauseous with boredom, but not writing left me feeling guilty and like the failure The Jerk insisted that I was. It was then that I was forced to face the reality that while I didn’t consider myself a perfectionist, my heart drummed to the steady beat of The Jerk shouting, “Not enough! Not enough! Not enough!” and I was marching right along.


If you get to the point, like I had, where you’ve given The Jerk all that you have to give and he still shouts on, you have two options. You can give up and agree with The Jerk that what you have to bring to the table is, indeed, not enough, and give up on whatever creative endeavor you were undertaking. The Jerk will curl up in some back corner of your brain with a smug smile on his face to take a nice nap. But beware, if you gather up the courage to attempt anything creative ever again, The Jerk will perk right back up, his drums ready and his voice louder than ever.

If, however, allowing the personification of all your doubts and insecurities to rule your life just isn’t your style, (and I hope it’s not) then you should choose the second option and face The Jerk. Take a hard look at the mean, little voice that lurks in the back of your head and recognize it for what it is- a small, petty weasel of a thing that will never be satisfied with any kind of success you achieve and will always strive to make you just as small and miserable as he is. Once you see the The Jerk for the bully that he is, you’ll realize that, like all bullies, he only has as much power as you put in his grubby hands. So take back whatever power you’ve handed over, and snap his drumsticks in half for good measure. The Jerk is a coward, and he’ll take off at the first sign of a real fight, but he’s also persistent, so he’ll be back when your guard goes down. Don’t let that bother you, though. He’ll be chanting the same old words, and you know better now than to let those slow you down. After all, you’re The Writer, and he’s still just The Jerk.

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