Do You Hear Voices In Your Head?

Bob Sands here for The Writer’s Life this week.

Over the past 25 years, I have found it necessary to practice what I preach!

Let me explain.

During my career, I have given at least one new presentation every week. I have produced copy for radio broadcasts, commercials, sales letters, and advertisements. And I have also written speeches for and coached political candidates, elected officials, CEOs, and entrepreneurs.

Thus, I need to generate new ideas and concepts on a daily basis.

And that’s my focus this week. I want to talk with you about how to free the writer within so you can get better ideas quicker and write faster than you ever thought possible. Before I do that, I have a confession to make: I hear voices in my head. That’s a tough thing to admit.

But before you assume I’m certifiable – wait. I bet you hear voices too.

As writers, we all do. The voice I hear is that of my elementary school teacher. Let’s call her Ms. Smith. I vividly recall her telling my mother, “Bobby will never be able to write.” Her commentary wasn’t just a criticism of my penmanship; it was a slam on my lack of writing ability. She used to mumble about my dangling participles, split infinitives (after years of college I still can’t tell you what these are!), and misplaced modifiers.

Here’s the problem. Often, when I sit down to write, I hear her voice in my head telling me that I will never be able to write and suddenly I can’t. A sort of temporary paralysis sets in, quickly followed by panic, which only serves to make the situation even more unbearable.

Am I alone in this? I don’t think so. The voices from our past will often try to influence our present. They are the inner critic. For you, maybe it was parent or teacher. For others, it might be an ex-lover or former boss. It makes no difference. They all say the same things. “You’re not a writer.” “You won’t succeed in your own career.” “You can’t do it!” “You aren’t good enough!” What do you do when those voices get loud?

First, kick your critic to the curb! You can go as far as writing that critic a letter ending with the word “goodbye” if that’s what it takes (I know some who have done it and swear by it!).

The point is to find a way to evict that inner antagonist so that it no longer lives rent-free inside your head. It’s time to put the past behind you. Dr. Tony Campolo put it this way, “Your past is important, but it is not nearly as important to your present as is the way you see your future.”

Second, write through it so you can get past it. I have noticed that these negative voices seem loudest when I’m moving slowest. So my answer is: write faster! That’s where tools like timed free writing in short bursts really make a difference. You become so focused on the output that you don’t have time to listen to negative input. If you want to know more about the benefits of free writing and how to do it, see my article “How to Become an Idea-Generating Machine – Part 1: Free Writing.”

Third, take a walk. Physical activity will do wonders to give you a mental break. Motion shifts momentum and physical changes impact our psychology.

Last year, I finally decided it was time to begin getting healthy. I’ve shed over 41 pounds and work out a minimum of five days a week. Hitting the gym gives me a needed mental break. When I come back to the keyboard, I often have a new perspective and am able to write without the inner critic barging in.

So when the voices get overwhelming, take a walk. When you come back to write, you’ll notice it’s just you and the keyboard.

Yes, we all hear voices of negativity and failure. But it’s important to realize that we don’t have to listen to them. So the next time that inner critic begins the chatter, kick it out, write through it, and take a walk. You will not only be a better writer but also a more peaceful person.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you have no doubt dealt with the “inner critic.” Tell me what you did to silence it so you could get writing again. I’d love to get your feedback in the comments section below. Your thoughts could also help another fellow writer!

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s issue for more tips on unleashing your inner writer. I’ll be sharing with you why bad writing is the best writing.

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Published: April 16, 2012

10 Responses to “Do You Hear Voices In Your Head?”

  1. Fabulous article and incredible timing for me to receive it. I've decided that I need not only to kick my inner critics to the curb but make sure they get hauled away so they don't keep crawling back into the yard! I highly recommend two books that explain how those voices get into your head and how to get rid of them: "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" by Dr. David D. Burns, and "The Biology of Belief" by Dr. Bruce H. Lipton. My critics aren't completely gone yet but they are much quieter!


  2. So true, I am having a problem focusing on a couple of fiction ideas I have because one of my college professors had such negative comments on everything I gave him. It really undermined my confidence.

    I can do research and write copy all day, but when it comes time to play with my imaginary friends, I hear his voice for sure.

    I haven't tried exercise to exorcise him. I don't know why because, exercise is my method of choice for all other stressful things. I will put it to the test the next time I find a block of time to work on my fiction writing.

    Guest (April)

  3. What a great article you wrote! And I believe every word from the where the problem can come from, and what to do about it. Negativity can be a killer if given into.

    Did you know that when we hear such things as you did early in your life, along with condemnations like, "You will never amount to anything."that statements like these are actually a curse? And if given into and accepted, these lies can build and become true?

    Look at the power of a placebo, when someone takes it "thinking" that it is the medication they need, many times it actually works? Why? Not because it has the compounds within to heal, but because the "belief" is there to heal.

    Even Jesus could not perform the miracles he wanted to in his hometown like he did in so many other towns. Why? Because much "disbelief" was rampant.

    So, statements of negativity thrown at someone (a curse) and "belief" in that statement, can be incredibly damaging and long last

    Guest (Steven Graham)

  4. Bob,

    I don't have a comment on silencing the voices in my head...

    What I was really writing about was the exercise.

    The book Spark by Dr. John Ratey says that exercise is primarily beneficial to the brain. The physical advantages are side effects.

    Great read if you have the time.

    Sean McCool

  5. I write the most tongue in cheek, sarcastic copy I can muster, which turns into a fun exercise. Often I find that I can go back and tone it down a bit and have some pretty powerful content left.

    Guest (Susan M Sparks)

  6. Dear Bob I know a thing or two about those voices that say you can't! And sometimes I do go for a walk thinking about the story line and plots. Even now as I write this comment they are screaming not to. However the way I get past them is to go ahead and write it.As I focus on the story at hand, the voices seem to leave. Or at least get quiet as if I'm surprising them, by writing.

    Guest (Mark Anderson)

  7. Bob,

    Since I can never silence those voices, I delay them. I tell them they can edit my work, but when I need to get words on paper for the first time they must be silent.

    This seems to work better than telling them to shut up or go to Gehenna or some other total stifling of them. The maiden aunts (my peculiar voices) actually serve a good function. They are excellent critics and editors.

    I just refuse to allow them in before the first draft is completed.

    Thanks for your article.

    Eric B

  8. The surest way to silence the inner critic is meditation and out of all meditations MANTRA is the easiest at this stage and age.

    Guest (j)

  9. Great piece on silencing the inner critic! I write in the middle of the night or at first light. Why? When we sleep our logical brain sleeps too. Upon arising the analytical brain is groggy. This gives our right brain an uninterrupted voice. It’s my “creative download.” Put your right brain “draft” away. Go back to it the next day to refine, add quotes and statistics. Master this technique and the inner critic won’t wield power over you or your copy. Paula Parker

    Guest (Paula )

  10. Bob,

    Thanks for contributing this top-notch guest article here. It was fun to read.

    You can silence your inner critic by listening to those voices inside your head and then slowly letting it go away.

    That inner critic is like a rat chasing after a piece of cheese, but that rat is caught in a maze.

    Once that rat finds an exit, it will disappear. You don't have to chase it away or fuss over it at all.

    The inner critic is a weasel. By notpaying any attention, you ignore it.
    Victory at last!

    Archan Mehta

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