I am in the zone. Words are flowing from my fingertips and into the world like sand spilling through an hourglass. My main character is rounding a corner in a bustling hyper market. Vendors call to him in a language he barely understands but he’s fixed and intent, his target mere seconds away. As he reaches inside his jacket pocket for a pistol he’s not even sure will work he spies her but, wait… she isn’t alone.
There’s tension and bright lights and I am nailing this scene. I can feel myself bouncing a little in my seat because this next part, this next part will be fantastic and-
“Oh, that’s a really good twist.” Someone beside me says.
I stop typing and look up at Ben. Oh, marvelous, just when I’m about to write the most impressive scene of my writing career. “Go away.” I tell him.
“You wanna know why it’s such a great idea?”
I don’t, I absolutely do not want to hear whatever it is he’s about to say. I cover my ears. It’s childish, yes and won’t even work because Ben isn’t real but it’s a last ditch effort to delay the inevitable and it’s 3am.
“Because you saw it in a film last week. Bruce Willis was in it, it was awesome!”
Ben is a wanker.
I close my eyes and will him to disappear but it’s too late. My hands are now resting in my lap instead of on the keyboard where they should be and it’s as though a void has just opened up above my head and started draining away all my enthusiasm and confidence. Goddamnit, this is why I hate Ben. In one snap realisation I’ve gone from H.G Wells style magnificent to …well someone who writes science-fiction but just isn’t as magnificent as H.G Wells. Bugger.
It shouldn’t matter, because the plot twist in that film wasn’t happening in a futuristic slum marketplace and it wasn’t starring my characters. (My guy is more of a Cillian Murphy than a Bruce Willis anyway.) But it does matter because I want people to read this and what if they think I’m just recycling someone else’s plot? Rehashing someone else’s dialogue?
It’s all Ben’s fault; he’s there constantly looking over my shoulder as I type. He’ll remain silent for ages, letting me fall into my story and start living through my characters and then – just when I’m at my most excited he’ll strike. One small detail or a long forgotten line from a poem and in seconds I’ll be conflicted over every other word on the screen. Am I copying someone else without even noticing? Is this setting so similar to a TV set I’ve seen that people will roll their eyes in disgust and turn away from my story, never to consider my work again?
And yet it happens all the time, this reworking of ideas. They’re called cliches and genres, tropes and archetypes. And they’re not always a bad thing. They can be taken advantage of, used to guide a new reader through a mysterious new world. And although a plot twist may be seen from a mile away, some of the best written mysteries allow the reader to guess the culprit before the protagonist does.
But even though I know this and Ben does to, a single hesitation is all it takes to have me wandering off to make a cup of tea and brood over my story instead of you know, writing the damn thing.
I’ve received a lot of advice over time about “defeating the inner critic”. These range from fellow writer and blogger Liz Finch’s “turn up your music super loud” and ignore it to “bringing it out” and embracing it a la Paul Roberts. I think both techniques work depending on where you are in your story and what kind of writer you are.
As for me, whenever Ben starts making his presence known in the coming weeks I’m going to go with the ‘drown the bugger out’ method. Harmonic dubstep should do the trick.