Lower your standards. Now!

Carl Richards, from Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead:

You’re fired. No, seriously. Pack up your stuff, and get out. But let me be clear: The job you’re fired from is one you never should have had in the first place — being a critic of your own work. Done, finished, not your job anymore. When you finish creating something and you start to wonder if it’s any good … nope! Don’t try to answer. You no longer get to decide. If you need me to fire you, awesome, consider it done. But in fact, what would be even better is if you fire yourself. Let me tell you why.

Five or six years ago, when I first started writing the weekly Sketch Guy column, I would have pieces I was certain would go viral. I said to myself, “I nailed it, everyone’s going to love it, a million people are going to share it!” And then, I would hear nothing. For some reason, it just didn’t get the play — no comments, no feedback, nothing. Then there were times when I was completely surprised in the opposite way…I had this experience enough times to realize that I was simply terrible at judging whether my work was good or not. And guess what? So are you. You’re just too close to it.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to matter, as your job now officially has nothing to do with deciding if the work is good. Your job is to do the work, put it out there and let the world decide.  Now, I know that sounds scary. But let’s be dead clear about something: You’re not John Steinbeck (and neither was he, at the start). You have to get there first. And the only way to do that is through practice and criticism. But the only way to get practice and criticism is to make and share your work. This isn’t just about writing. It’s about anything meaningful you do. Singing, painting, entrepreneurship, giving financial advice, museum curating, boat building, skiing, whatever. Whatever it is, your job is to do the work, to become the best you can be.

Not long ago, a reader from Florida named Chip Scanlan sent me an email on this very subject. He turned me on to a great quote from “Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation,”by William Stafford: “The so-called ‘writing block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance.”

But Chip’s words about self-criticism were even more apropos. “Whenever I’m blocked … I lower my standards. Correction, I do my best to not have any standards at all. I abandon my standards. I urge myself to write badly, and once I do that my fingers begin to fly, and the inner critic is powerless.”

Think of how liberating it would be to free yourself from the role of being your own harshest critic. What might you achieve? What work would you put out there for the world to see? What might happen if you took all the energy that goes in to judging your work and put it right back into the wellspring of creating the work instead?

Comments

  1. I LOVE this David. So true. We all need to do it: just stop dithering and making excuses, man up and get on with it. As someone who is in the throes of writing my first book this is really useful advice. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A lifelong objective – definitely not something I can do naturally

    Liked by 2 people

  3. WMS. This is an ongoing struggle for me. I have often embraced this in terms of writing… “write badly if need be, but for the love of all that’s holy, just WRITE” approach in order to get the ball rolling. Once you pierce the great white blank wall, you can move forward and the words began to flow. You can always polish later — That’s why They created the ‘delete’ button. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great piece David. As a practicing perfectionist I need this so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, this is so true. I love this. I listened to an award winning author speak 2 months ago and he said he was prolific as a writer because ‘he lowered his standards’ and was then free to write. I think he wrote a novel within 3 months – ready for his editor. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 3 months. Wow, Amazing…that’s inspiring. If only I could reduce my standards and write a short story in 3 months. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes absolutely. I used to write and suffer over trying to find the perfect sentence but then with a new second job, writing fashion articles for an Australian wide fashion company, with weekly deadlines helped me to let go of my precious words and helped me to just keep pressing send. and now with a third job, beginning tonight as a Movie Reviewer, I am allowing the writing of my first novel to be enough – enough by just getting the words down – knowing that what I am putting down is enough.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. i love this. i think in blog world i’m able to do this, with the same mixed results. at times, i just have to move on from what i’ve posted and readers respond in a very positive way, and other times, i’m thrilled, though the readers may not be. it’s taken a while for me to see that i just need to put things out there and let them fall where they may. it’s all practice in the scheme of things, isn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. loved this… words to motivate

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What about unedited or edited. Just put it out there?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great advice! Everyone can relate to this 👏👍

    Like

  11. I don’t get paid well enough to have a high standard!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Hi, David, I just saw this in the Times this morning (it’s hard to stay current sometimes). As soon as I saw the photo, I knew this would be in your blog. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s finding that balance between doing it for our own gratification and putting it out there for others. 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Kevin Byrnes says:

    Great read, great reminder and very timely for me as I try to tame my inner critic. Thank you for writing…I always learn something.

    Like

  15. Great motivation not only when it comes to writting.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Today I have “officially” fired my inner critic and given myself permission to lower my standards 🙂 It feels good!!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. It is the best feeling in the world. Plus with billions of people out there waiting to criticise others why take the responsibility upon ourselves right?

    Like

  18. This is exactly what I needed to hear, I’m finished with my 1s book and during my writing process, I kept pausing and going back to revise and take parts out put them back in and so on and so forth. I became discouraged because I was feeling it wasn’t good enough, I was trying to put myself in the readers shoes and I finally realized it not about being the best selling author but about me doing and giving my Gods honest truth and pay homage to the people I was writing about and then I found myself writing like crazy. Today I am finished but still haven’t begun the publishing process because I want to be sure I have given all I have to this one book, and now contemplating the next. So I thank you for this piece because it sheds light on what happens to writers during the process and makes us feel we are not alone, thank you and good luck with all your doing in your life and others.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I’ve been free a long time. I can’t wait to see what kind of mess I make of my writing and my art. I think blogging helped that along, and Anne Lamont’s dictum to write “Shitty Drafts, and slapping images together that feel right. The inner critic is on standby for matters of girth only.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks for sharing…

    Like

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  2. […] It was wisdom for me, a jewel: Permission to just write without measure of success […]

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