Pen to Pen: Nicki J. Marcus on Dealing with Your Inner Critic

Many writers I know have two main psychological modes when it comes to their writing: the “I’m amazing! Every word that leaves my pen today is pure gold!” mode and the “Everything I write is meaningless drivel” mode. Most of us are hit by the latter more often than the former. For this week’s Pen to Pen column, genre writer Nicki J. Marcus has some great advice on stepping back from your inner critic and assessing your work objectively. —Dale

red pen resting on a typed manuscript with red comments and corrections
Adapted from a photo by Anne Karakash via Pixabay.

Dealing with Your Inner Critic

by Nicki J. Markus

One of the hardest things to overcome as a writer is not the external critics, but the one inside your head. If you’re anything like me, you’ll agonise over your stories, both prior to submission and after, wondering if the phrase or word you used was the ideal choice, or whether something else would have worked better. For some writers, this can become a huge sticking point, rendering them incapable of drawing a line under a piece and submitting/publishing it. So, how do you silence that little voice?

I believe, the first step is to know yourself. In some instances, your inner voice is talking to you for a reason, because there’s something in the text that needs correction. The art comes in discerning the point at which you’ve satisfied that need, and then taking a step back.

My personal approach is to allow myself four rounds. Following completion of my first draft, I will do a maximum of three rounds of edits and a final proofread. By the proofreading stage, if I am doing anything more than correcting typos, I know I am only niggling and it’s time to cease. With experience, you will each find the critical point that works for you.

Of course, that inner critic will always be there. I look back on stories I wrote three years ago and think how I would change the prose, were I writing them now. But the trick is to see that as a good thing. You want your writing to be better now than it was three years back; that’s what shows you are improving and growing as a writer. Most writers are perfectionists. We’d all love to write perfect stories. But the truth is, your style changes with time and experience, and eventually, you have to stop looking back and move on. Make every story as good as you can, but don’t fall into the trap of fiddling with each so much that you never get them out there.

In conclusion, listen to your inner voice … but only up to a certain point.

[4 tips for dealing with your inner critic:

  • Make necessary changes. Your inner voice may be talking for a reason. Listen to what it’s saying, as some of its prompts may be changes your manuscript requires.
  • Know when to stop. Learn to discern the point where necessary changes give way to unnecessary fiddling.
  • Set yourself limit. With experience, learn how many times you need to go over a manuscript before you start niggling, and stop at that point.
  • Except your growth. Change can be good. You want to constantly improve, so what you write one year should be better than what you penned in the last.]

About Nicki. J. Markus

headshot of nicki j marcusNicki J. Markus (aka Asta Idonea) is an editor and a published author of male/male romance, heterosexual romance, and mainstream genre stories. Find her at: