Silence Your Inner Critic: How to Defeat Your Writing Demons

Silence Your Inner Critic: How to Defeat Your Writing Demons

Everyone has their own personal writing demon — and some writers have several of them.

Maybe yours is a lack of confidence. Or it might be that you battle resistance. Perhaps you fight against an inner critic; more than a few writers struggle with the nagging voice of someone from their past who told them they’d never succeed.

No matter which demon you have to battle, no writer escapes the black dog of doom that creeps close and growls when they sit down at the keyboard.

Having a writing demon is so universal that it’s become a trope. Cue the story of the angst-filled creative who can’t get past his blocks… until some unexpected event or person changes everything and unlocks his creative genius.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a miracle like that happen to you? Well, you could sit around waiting for that moment to happen. It’s what most writers do.

Or, you could just take matters into your own hands and slay your personal writing demon from the comfort of home.

How to defeat writing demons

In the movies, defeating a demon requires the dramatic. Common approaches include finding a magical artifact that’s been hidden for eons, or taking a harrowing trip to a fiery chasm. Some massive battle of wills or strength takes place, and at the last minute, all that seemed lost is saved.

Defeating demons in real life is far easier.

You don’t need a magical artifact. No fiery chasm is required. Your writing demon is simply a bully — and as with all bullies, all it takes to come out on top is to stand up tall and not back down.

Here are a few time-tested ideas that always do the trick.

Decide how much power you’re going to give away

The reason a personal demon has power over you in the first place is because you’re consistently giving it over.

The demon didn’t always have power — in fact, it didn’t have any until you started giving it control. Mentally, you created a hierarchy in which you began to believe the demon had all the power… and you didn’t have any. Now you’re at its mercy, letting it dictate your options.

It’s the same psychological phenomenon that keeps people stuck in unhealthy, abusive relationships.

Whenever you encounter your demon, you need to decide whether you’re going to believe what it says or follow its advice. That’s your decision to make — only you have control over that.

You can choose to believe you have no options. You can choose to believe your demon has taken them all away.

Or you can choose to believe in your own free will and ability to act.

You can decide to stop giving your demon the power of an authority figure. You can refute its message. You can refuse to be controlled. Instead, you can start treating it like some random bozo on the street. One who doesn’t know you, and who can’t tell you what to do.

You don’t have to listen to your demon. How much power you relinquish to it is your decision, and yours alone.

Find the easiest way to chip away at its power

Your demon has been around for a long time. It’s conditioned you to hold beliefs that don’t necessarily go away just because you want them to. It affects your confidence that you can be creative, productive and successful.

It affects your ability to write.

You might think that you have to engage in some epic battle against these beliefs to break free. That approach might work, but to be honest, it’s prone to fail.

Your beliefs have strong foundations. They’re not easily toppled. But they are easy to chip away. Instead of using brute force to topple a belief, undermine it by taking small actions that run counter to the idea.

Your writing demon wins because it has you believing global statements like, “I just can’t write” or “My writing isn’t any good.” The universal nature of these beliefs gives them their power.

This is what you can chip away.

For example, the next time you think, “I just can’t write,” chip away at that universal belief. Sit down and write for five minutes. You could write a mere 100 words. You could write on a completely unnecessary topic — anything to get reactivated.

This small step won’t magically turn your writing life around, of course, but it does create a reference point that immediately works to undermine your global belief, and it helps your brain to re-engage. You’ll come to realize that sometimes it’s more difficult to write, and most times, it’s not difficult at all.

And when you think, “I just can’t write!” you’ll begin to realize that statement isn’t true. The voice of your demon begins to lose credibility. Eventually, it becomes a fleeting whisper until the day you don’t hear it anymore at all.

Will it take time? Of course it will. But if your writing has been stalled because of your demon, gradual improvement is better than the zero you have now.

Assign a talisman to remind you of your power

The beliefs you currently have are the result of long-term conditioning. They’re going to be your default pattern for a while. That’s why it’s a good idea to have something at your disposal to remind you that you can break that pattern any time you choose.

In legends, a talisman is an object that protects you from harm. In real life, you can have one, too.

You might choose a “lucky pen” you keep on your desk to remind you that if you just write for 10 minutes, you’ll warm up to the task. It could be a sticky note on your monitor that says, “Everybody starts somewhere.” It could even be a picture of a loved one that you can look at and think, “This person believes in me, and I’m going to believe in me, too.”

Be creative. Have fun with this. Choose a talisman that makes you feel good, that makes you feel confident, capable and strong. Just pick an object that you associate with your new, more empowered belief, and keep it handy.

The psychological term for this is anchoring; you anchor a particular thought, state of mind or emotion to the sight or feel of an object. It’s a smart thing to do, because it can help you break from your rut when you’re feeling trapped.

Can defeating your writing demon really be so simple?


It’s likely that on your search for the miracle cure that’ll save you from your demons, you’ve encountered all sorts of other writers talking about their difficult struggles and sharing “helpful” advice suggesting a long, daunting road of recovery back to writing health.

Sometimes the simplest advice is best. And even better, not only is this advice simple, but it’s easy to implement.

No matter how long your demon has held power over you, that power is fragile. It was never the demon’s power to begin with — the power was, and always will be, yours.

So the next time your writing demon starts whispering in your ear, use these three simple steps to get the power back in your hands… where it belongs.
Have you battled a writing demon? What strategies or tools did you use?

Filed Under: Craft


  • Maria John says:

    I think on the really hard days, writing just 100 words is great advice.

  • Sara says:

    Thank you for this article. Another way of thinking of the critic is not just as a bully, but as a ‘misguided protector.’ In psychology, all parts of the self have a positive purpose, and understanding the ways in which the critic is trying to help us can aid in dialoguing and shifting our relationship with this voice. Often it is ‘bullying’ us because it is afraid if we put ourselves out there we will be exposed, harmed, or hurt in some way — likely because this happened in our past.

  • Ted Begnoche says:

    This is a very good article with many key takeaways, especially deciding how much power to give your demon.
    Mine is self-doubt, and it’s a battle some days, but I found the best way to defeat it is to write no matter what. Sometimes it’s hard to fight it off, I’ve even walked around the block and come back to try again, and this usually works for me. I will not take no for an answer!
    Thank you for posting this!

  • Emily says:

    Oh my goodness, I wish I had come across this before writing my own post on this very same topic! It’s so true that chipping away at these fears is the only way to keep our hope. Also very wise to have something concrete/tangible to usher us out of the Pit of Despair. The biggest hurdle for me is not to see myself as other people do, but to focus on what is good in me. Thank you for the article!

  • zakir whosane says:

    my writing demon, i believe rather i am absolutely particular is…how do i start my writing my FIRST alphabet and eventually my FIRST word…FIRST sentence…FIRST paragraph…FIRST story…and on and on and on…!
    thank you, thank you very much indeed! for the push to make my writing demon PUBLIC…and believe me, now, i’ll take on my writing demon head-on.

  • Writing demons that prevent writers from writing have a potent enemy in your excellent advice. I have battled a different type of writing demon. I have fought the “write anyway or something bad will happen” type of demon. To work with this particular problem, a writer has to realize that the world will not end if they do not write today and that it is “okay” to take some time off for the rest of life’s needs. On the other hand, a writer cannot allow this to become an excuse not to write.

  • Great advice! As writers, I think we look at life from all kind of angles so why not train our brain to be more positive about ourselves!

  • kim obiora says:

    fnx a lot..i find my self battling with something i cant pin point. little did i know dat it is d demon in me telling me “u cant do as good as her” “u cant do this” “u weren’t born to b a writer just go to school and graduate” now i know i av to battle with this just by my self and the help of this great article.

  • Yeah, every writer has demons. Whether it’s self-doubt, ADD, a tendency to procrastinate, or a drinking problem 🙂 Thanks for this great post to tell us that we’re not alone.

  • I lost my inner critic by doing NaNaWriMo. I just wrote the story from beginning to end just trying to make the word count and it worked for me.

    My suggestion is to try it.

  • Pimion says:

    Excellent advice given in this artcle! Everybody has its demons. And I doubt you are able to beat them, you just need to keep them on a leash.

  • Great article! I was stuck today with writer’s block and really wrestling with the demons and this was after getting offered a freelance staff writing job yesterday with a magazine! The sentiments in the piece really resonated with me. I have many people interested in my writing. I wrote an op-ed piece on Monday that had some people buzzing on social media, yet today I woke up and caved into those demons; feeling like whatever I have done today is not good enough. I really appreciate you writing this because I found it just at the perfect time for me today to lift my spirits. I am going to use these suggestions particularly the one on writing 100 words on a subject. Thanks again!

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great article! Love what you said about not giving your demon power. We fail to realize we give it power. My biggest demon is the words ‘my writing isn’t good enough’. I silence it by reminding myself that people buy my books and my editor keeps asking me to write more articles. If my writing was horrible those things wouldn’t continue happening.

  • Evan Jensen says:

    Great advice in this post. It’s hard to silence the Inner Critic sometimes. I’ve won some journalism awards, landed some good freelance projects, and been a staff writer and freelancer for a long time, but I still battle with some of the all-too-common demons many writers face from time to time. Thanks for the tips for chipping away at this to keep moving forward.

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