Challenge,  On Writing

A Possible New Workshop Idea

Saturday Night Brainstorming…

I figured I would run this out here, see if any response.

Thinking about a full workshop on killing critical voice.

So one of the things that would be in the workshop is this one method…


When writers are having issues with critical voice, stopping them, I sort of off-hand tell them to stop caring. Critical voice feeds on caring.

But then in the same breath, I tell the writer to do the best they can.

So one person today asked me how you do the best you can without caring?  I realized I needed to do a lot more explanation.

First off, what is the best you can do while writing???

1… Have fun.

2… Don’t write sloppy.

3… Tell a story that readers will want to read.


You do that, it’s the best you can. No value judgement on the writing, no critique on the plot, none of that matters. Just those three things.

But writers who have critical voice issues bring in the “book” by thinking about what will happen to the book when finished while they are still writing. Will it be perfect? Will it sell a lot of copies? That’s deadly. (And this often happens a ways into a novel and stops writers cold.)

So how do you not care?

Simply train yourself on the following two things…

1… Doesn’t matter if the book will sell or not. You don’t care. It will be done and you will have moved on.

2… Doesn’t matter if anyone will like it. You don’t care. It will be done and you will have moved on.

So you do the best you can with the writing and then just not care. This takes all power away from critical voice.

Does it ever bother any of you that I can’t usually remember any of my own books? Do I have a bad memory? Nope. And I love titles (before and while I write).

I don’t remember hardly any of my own work because they are just “finished products” to me.

What was important to me was having fun, telling a good story, and not writing sloppy. After that I am done and the book is nothing more than one of the many hundreds of finished products I have. It is IP.

My critical voice has no foothold to even get started because of that attitude.


So I just blindly follow Heinlein’s Rules, have fun with the writing, get the finished product on the market and move on to the next story where I have fun again.


So you think that kind of solution, explained a ton better, plus other solutions, would be a good workshop? Honestly just never thought of doing a Kill Critical Voice workshop before. I am actually thinking it might be helpful. Hmmmm…


  • emmiD

    I constantly struggle with critical voice. Somehow, stuck in the middle of a book, I forget every other struggle (successfully overcome), and critical voice takes over.

    So I definitely need this help.

  • Céline Malgen

    I think such a workshop would definitely be helpful! Especially with fun assignments along the way, to help get your point truly engrained, and not just on an intellectual level.

    Now, is it possible to truly *kill* critical voice? Or is it more a matter of making it shut up and whimper in a corner?

  • Charlotte

    Hi Dean! I think it would help tremendously. Silencing the critical voice seems to be the number one problem for a lot of people, and your going into further details would probably trigger a lot of new lightbulb moments.
    What do you mean by ‘telling a story that readers will want to read’, though?

    Also, I would love to hear more about how you flip that switch between writing and editing, making the book a product and deciding how to market it when you’ve written it one-shot, one clean draft, into the dark, and maybe don’t really know what’s in it, at least not with your critical head. This is one of my many problems right now as an indie, being prolific and still not having found the right first readers.
    Are these subjects that you address in the workshop about editing your own stuff? Is that workshop still on?

    • dwsmith

      Charlotte, see my response to Kate on the trigger phrase of #3.

      I assume by first readers, you don’t mean anything but customers, correct? You don’t need any first “readers” or “beta readers” stupidity. Just need someone to find typos.

      And yes, some of that is addressed in Editing classic workshop.

      Charlotte, when you are writing, it’s entertaining yourself. Nothing more. That keeps the critical voice at bay. When done, the book just becomes a finished product. You treat it like any other finished product. And why would I care what was in it???????? I only care that it is a sf novel or a mystery novel and write sales copy that say basically that. You never tell readers a plot of a book, so why would I need to remember it??????? If you think you need to remember the details that are deep in a book to sell a book, you are doing a ton of things very wrong in sales. And more than likely chasing readers away instead of making them interested.

      Unless I didn’t understand your question. I can look at the first few pages of a story or a book I wrote and go, “Oh, yeah, that mystery or that sf, more than enough to write good sales copy and go on with sales.

      The key is not caring about any of that stuff while you are writing. Sounds to me your critical voice has found an innovative way to stop you by making you believe you have to remember everything about a book to sell it. Interesting critical voice issue there.

      • Charlotte

        Oh, nice. Rule #4 is playing with my head. Gah.
        So yes, killing the critical mind, please 🙂

  • Phillip McCollum

    Abso-friggin-lutely! This is an area that seems to trip up a lot of us following the WITD method. I seem to be getting over it for the most part in the current WIP, but some additional tactics to fight off the critical voice would be useful.

  • Michèle Laframboise

    It would be a good complement to the pop-up 18 “nothing’s good enough”.
    Either a new pop-up or a full workshop with exercises in identifying the many forms of critical voice.

  • Peggy

    This quote from Andy Warhol seems appropriate to post here:

    “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

  • Kate Pavelle

    I think it’s a useful workshop on your view of how to go about it. The problem of separating “don’t care” from “do your best” pops up in item #3: Write a story readers would want to read.

    This assumes that you have to think about the reader, and once you start thinking about the reader, you set your feet onto a slippery slope of “what would they think,” which naturally leads to “will it sell?” How slippery this slope is will be determined by several factors:

    1. Footwear: whether or not your feet will slide is your confidence level. Lots of friction = high confidence. Good sturdy Vibrams, or even ice crampons. Or high stilettos that dig right in, depending on what you want to visualize. Personally I adore functional footwear, YMMV. But you don’t want to be caught on a slippery slope in some fashion-forward POS which will set you sliding on your ass (i.e. following trends isn’t a sign of great confidence.)
    2. Surface: the surface of the slippery slope is your story. More original bumps and textures will help you, so if you’re not afraid to dive into a writing life that’s messy and uncertain, you’re likely to find footing that might be iffy at times, but it’s unlikely to be too slippery. You’ll care (see those cool bumps and ridges!) and you’ll still think of your reader (standing on an inclined plane), but you should stay more or less put. If your story is too low-hanging-fruity or written to market, that’s like a factory-smooth finish. Easy to keep sliding, and when you’re sliding, you’re out of control of your story.
    3. What grade of slope are you standing on? If you’re surrounded by a write-to-market crowd and get the idea that a “beat sheet” is the way to go, that’s a pretty steep slope and even a nicely textured story might crumble under your feet, perhaps manifesting as burnout. If you stay off social media (and I know how hard that is,) and if you don’t read your reviews (took me a few years to learn that,) it improves both your footwear and it lessen the grade of your slope.

    I think financial pressure of the individual writer is also a huge factor. It’s easy to tell the world to go fly a kite when you’re not worried about paying for the basics, especially now with our economic upheaval. Would alternative income stream be, perhaps, trees on the slope that help you stop your slide?

    So, there are ways to both think of your reader, which is critical for depth, and write a fun story you’re enjoying, without thinking “oh they won’t like this, I better change my XYZ.” But you need to wear sensible shoes and be mindful of your mental environment. And that’s hard and takes practice.


    • dwsmith

      Kate, I knew that the moment I put that in there, writer’s critical voices would jump on that like a cat on a piece of tuna.

      In the workshop I would explain that a lot more, but basically IN THE CONTEXT of doing a good job while writing, that means to not write “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” kind of silliness over and over. Nothing more.

      You can’t figure out readers and try to write to them. But you can write something that a reader somewhere would want to read. A story.

      In other words, write a story that entertains you and it will entertain readers.

      In other words, those of you who just type 50,000 words in a NaNoWriMo silliness are not only writing sloppy, but not writing something someone would want to read. #3 goes hand-in-hand with #2.

      I knew that critical voice would jump on that with the “How do I know a reader will want to read it?” Or “Does that mean I should writer to market?” Nope, just means you should tell a story the best you can, nothing more. I think in the workshop I will change that out to less of a trigger.

      Kate, all the rest of the stuff you wrote it just surface excuses brought on by an immediate jump to critical voice. And far, far, far, far overthinking. I almost didn’t let it through.

  • Kari Kilgore

    I’ve come a long way in keeping my own critical voice beaten down over the past several years. I’d even say I’ve gotten rid of quite a bit of it for good. And I’m ALWAYS glad to learn new ways to deal with it.

    What I’ve found is some parts of mine can be like a hydra. or maybe something that grows mostly underground where I can’t see it. So I cut off one head or close off one area, and it finds a new way to sneak through. Often ways I never would have imagined five years ago, or even a year ago.

    I’d also love to have something like that to point people to. Sadly another way the critical voice regains ground is just because we hang out with other writers. We can imagine all kinds of ways to mess up our own minds.

    Sounds like a great workshop to me!

  • Philip

    I could definitely use this workshop. I write short stories but have never finished a novel. Critical Voice tells me no one will read it and that I’m wasting my time. It’s not “to market,” the voice tells me.

    But I’m getting to the point where I think, even if the voice was correct, what’s worse: the feeling of finishing a book that doesn’t sell or the feeling I have now of having written as a hobby for 30 years and never having finished a book and had that satisfaction?

  • Jason Adams

    Heck, I’d be in. I don’t think I have a huge critical voice, but it’s still there. Anything I can do to lop off any heads that pop up is knowledge worth having.

  • Annie Reed

    I still have problems with critical voice. I think it comes from a lifetime spent writing for lawyers when every word and word choice does count. Or that whole “perfection” thing that’s drummed into kids when they’re in school. Gotta get an A on that test, have a 4.0 GPA, and all that.

    I tell myself (or try to) that I write to entertain myself. I think as indie publishers, it’s harder not to think about the book — the end product on the other side of the finish line — while you’re telling the story of the book. So yes, I think a Kill Critical Voice would be helpful to a lot of writers.


    Dean, you have been instrumental in getting me writing and staying in the chair. Part of it has to do with being unemployed. I have time now. In the face of the pandemic and living in New Jersey, one of the hardest hit states, my stories started out a little on the dark side.
    I mean really, one of my stories a month ago starred a hard-boiled gnome! Really? And then my first reader thought is was funny, but I didn’t think it was funny while I was writing it. That input from my first reader only served to prove that writers CANNOT judge their own work.
    I’m starting out with a character in a setting with a problem. I also use brainstorming tools (mostly idea generators) on the internet and I limit my time there. Must be cautious, because Critical Voice is the chain-smoking bouncer at the front door. I keep all my brainstorming sessions firmly in Creative Voice and I fill out ideas on an 11 by 17 sheet of paper, in pencil. How about this, how about that, and then this and then that. It’s like splashing around in a mud puddle. I never once allow myself to scribble anything that says, “No, that’s stupid. No, that won’t work.”
    Yes, it’s fun.

    • E. R. Paskey

      *raises hand* Count me in for a killing critical voice workshop!

      I have come a long way the past few years thanks to you and Kris. The Fear of Failure Pop-up Workshop and Kris’s Perfection book were tremendously helpful in getting past the issues that kept me from finishing the massive fourth book in my space opera series a couple of years ago.

      That said, critical voice is insidious. I feel like I play whack-a-mole with it. No sooner do I root it out in one area, it pops up someplace else.

      So, yes, six weeks of a workshop on this would be much appreciated.

  • Terry Mixon

    I think it would be a good one. Like everyone else, I struggle with this one in almost every book I write. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Having concrete ideas on how to get past it faster and better would be great.

  • Kenny 'KR' Norris

    Sign me up too, Dean.

    I’ve spent lots of time, effort, learning, and implementing recently clearing out as many of the critical voices that I could in my head. So far I’ve made good progress but any help to clear even more of them out would be really beneficial, esp., when I’m going to start adding in more pressures onto my storytelling sometime soon.

  • allynh

    I’ve come in late to this, but I’ve never understood why would you “kill” critical voices.

    Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, talked about this in her chapter, Radio Station KFKD. She too talked about getting rid of the critical voices. I always wanted to tell her how that was such a waste of resources.

    Watch the movie The Sixth Sense for a good example.

    – Once the dead psychologist told the kid to talk to the ghosts and ask them what they wanted, things settled down.

    When critical voices show up, I put them to work. As soon as I say that they are expected to actually do something with all their comments, they usually vanish.

    On occasion I’ve had real insight from the various critical voices. I’ve thanked them, and they went away.

  • Chris

    Hi Dean

    You nailed it! Again! I have been reading your blog and following your advice/method/you name it since 2017. People often ask me how many books I’ve written and although I’m new to this game, I honestly struggle to give them a number. Your breakdown of Heinlein’s Rules, plus the Magic Bakery, and not least your mantra about having fun when writing has helped me beyond measure.

    While I still read my reviews way too much – struggling to break that habit – I am genuinely enjoying my writing, loving my career, and have been fulltime since January 2018. Sure, it would be nice to have more money coming in, but I’m fixing that with the next book, and the next, and the next… You get the picture.

    I just want to say thanks, again, to you and Kris for all the information and experience you give away. This post on combating critical voice boils everything down to the essentials, and I am sure the course will be super valuable to all who take it.

    Thanks again.


  • Sophie Schiller

    I know you’re against Writing Critique groups on principle, but how else can one gauge the public’s reception of a work without going through a round of critiques? I actually find them helpful. True, it does interfere with one’s natural way of telling a story, but writing is hard work. It wasn’t meant to be easy. It’s like breaking in a horse. You have to work on yourself constantly to become a better storyteller. But I for one would be interested in such a workshop.

    • dwsmith

      Sophie, your question just made me shudder.

      I started two major peer workshops and went to Clarion, which is a workshop. Not once, in all the years and years and years did I pay one bit of attention to what anyone in the room said about my story they were critiquing. All I turned a story in for was audience. If there were ten people in the room, how many would like it, hate it. I HAD ALREADY MAILED TO AN EDITOR the same story I turned in and never once made a correction from anyone’s comments. I wanted audience. And I wanted the networking.

      I listened to writers a long ways down the road that I wanted to walk. Those I took comments and tried to learn from the comments for the next story. I had people like Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, Gene Wolfe, Fred Pohl, Algis Budrys, Mike Resnick all give me feedback on a story at one point or another. I took their suggestions, learned from the, and made sure I did it better on the next story. Not once did I try to go back and fix a story. I learned for the next story.

      And why the hell is writing hard work???? Wow, you are so buried in the myths that I let your post through here to let people know what kind of questions and comments I get that I don’t let through.

      When does sitting alone in a room and making stuff up and getting paid for it become hard work??? If you think that’s hard work, you need to spend some time digging a ditch.

      Yes, you have to keep learning, but you are so English Teacher focused on how to learn, it is scary. To learn how to write, you read great authors, you study and take their work apart, type it in to your computer, you take workshops from writers way down the road you want to walk, you write a great deal, all the time, following Heinlein’s Rules, you read, and read more, and maybe even read a how to write book.

      And then you write and write and write. Called practice in any other sport or art.

      If you are listening to writers who are as much a beginner as you are, or English teachers who have never written a commercial novel, then you will end up right where you are at in ten years. If you don’t want to do that, start clearing out the myths and find Heinlein’s Five rules. No chance in the world you could follow them where you are now. In fact, they will make you mad and I doubt you are even getting past the second rule. But they will give you a guiding light. Good luck.

  • JT

    Looks like you already got a critical mass of responses, but here’s one more. Yes, build it and I will come.