Writers and the inner critic

One of the international speakers at the recent Adelaide Writers Week was crime and historical fiction writer Sarah Dunant.  I managed to catch her talks several times. I didn’t take too many notes but I did record one significant statement she made.

Writers: tell the inner critic on your shoulder: “Leave the room, close the door and I’ll invite you back in when I’ve written and we’ll analyse it together.” Sarah Dunant 2010

The inner critic plagues many writers. Sometimes it is like a demon sitting there so belligerently that the writer is frozen by inaction.  Feelings of not being able to write creep in, along with their cousins telling the writer that he or she will never be a good writer. ‘You’re only deluding yourself,’ they cry. Try something sensible, like bomb disposal or rocket science. Go become something easier like a brain surgeon.

Self doubt and  self criticism is common. Writers need to shrug them off and just write. Get down the story, let it take on a momentum of its own and just get it written – no matter how rough it seems.

Then when the first draft is finished, invite the critic back into the process and go through your writing  meticulously, mercilessly and ruthlessly until the writing is so polished that it sparkles  like a well-cut diamond.

Good writing.

Sarah Dunant at Adelaide Writers Week 2010

Sarah Dunant at Adelaide Writers Week 2010

Sarah Dunant at the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010

Sarah Dunant at Adelaide Writers Week 2010

Sarah Dunant at Adelaide Writers Week 2010

One of the great things about attending a writers week like that recently held in Adelaide during this year’s Festival of Arts is that you get to meet and hear from a wide range of writers from around Australia and from overseas.

At this festival I attended on three of the six days. I heard from a number of writers I had never heard of before, let alone read any of their works. This is exciting, for it is an excellent way of finding new writers to read and new books to pursue. The downside is that one can simply get overwhelmed by the sheer number of excellent writers out there, many of whom have published three, four, ten or even dozens of books, all of them worthy of attention.

Where to start. [Sigh]

One of the sessions I attended was a meet-the-author type presentation with UK writer Sarah Dunant (pictured above). She gave a lively, entertaining and fully engaging talk. She lives part of the year in London and the rest in a Florence apartment.

[Bigger Sigh – I can dream can’t I?]

She explained how she developed from a crime writer into one who loves writing historical fiction. Her last three books are set in Italy in the 1500s and she went to great lengths to explain how she goes about her research, some of the fascinating facts that research has discovered about that era in recent decades and the impact of an understanding of religion on her writing.

“To understand the past you must understand religion,” she said. “Five hundred years ago it was the only game in town.” Sarah Dunant at the 2010 Adelaide Writers’ Week.

Her recent books include The birth of Venus (2003), In the company of the courtesan (2006) and Sacred hearts (2009).

I must put her books near the top of my ‘must read’ list.

Good reading.

Good writing.