Check that critic!

I’m experimenting with a new way to manage the inner critic. (Happy to say it’s been more critic than doomsayer lately, but that nagging voice of doubt still saps my energy and efficiency.) I call this technique the Gremlin Checklist. It combines the best aspects of the split-screen technique and mental-habits labeling into one convenient package!

I made a one-page chart. Down one side, I’ve listed all the things the inner critic typically says when I’m doing creative work. I know what the themes are by now: “This piece of the project is impossible to fix.” “Someone might hate this.” “I’m too sleepy / hungry to concentrate right now.” “The tension is intolerable! I’m hurting my health and must distract myself!”… plus about a dozen more.

Down the other side of the page is a blank column. It’s for check marks. When I get stuck, I notice what I’m saying to myself that got me stuck, and I put a quick check mark next to that statement on the chart.

So it looks like this: Write write write (or Plan plan plan) … screeching halt … “Hm, OK, that sounds like ‘This is getting so complicated I can’t possibly organize it.’ CHECK!”  Write write write (or Plan plan plan) … gear-grinding … “Oh yeah, that’s ‘I must research this point intensively so I don’t look like an idiot. I’m off to the Internet!’ CHECK!”

The list of comments gives me distance and reminds me that, hey, I’ve heard this before, and my job isn’t to please the critic. As for the check marks, they give me a quick way to acknowledge the voice and get back to task. Without the check marks, I tend to drift, dwelling on the critical comments instead of trying things that would move the project forward.

Sometimes I use a couple of blank columns instead of just one, and put dates at the top of each column. It can be interesting to note where the checkmarks cluster on a given day.

I’m finding that the Gremlin Checklist works not just for writing, but also workshop development, or any type of project that involves a degree of focus and frustration.



  1. Niki says:

    Awesome article! Most of us are aware of the inner critic but lack the skills to manage her. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Niki – Thanks!

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