tame your inner writing demon

We all have writing demons. They go by various names – imposters, internal critics, inner editors, blockages, procrastinations … they are nasty and stop you writing. Mostly you wish they’d go away and just leave you be. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t want to get rid of these demons entirely. You don’t want to slay then and rid yourself of them forever. Well, probably not. They can actually be useful, you see, at the right time and in the right places.

The imposter demon stops you being cocky and making over-claims. The internal critic offers you a way to evaluate your writing, the first step in thinking how to change it. The inner editor focuses you on textual features that need attention. Writing blockages can help you to rethink to see if your warrant, argument, evidence, angle aren’t suitable for the task. Procrastination can create some helpful re-thinking time and space.

Because the demons can be useful, in their place, it can be helpful to think about what they actually are and what they are ‘saying’ to you. It can be good to consider when and how your demon might be a benefit, rather than a barrier to your writing.

Health warning. Playful strategy ahead.

This is a small, somewhat silly exercise I sometimes do in workshops if participants are having a really hard time getting their writing demons under control. You do have to be in the right frame of mind to do it, and I understand that some people will find this activity pretty odd/naff/stupid. (However, the exercise does have an actual therapeutic basis – re-narrativisation.) It’s not a completely bad thing to do in a group where you can all have a laugh together about the demons you share – and the smart remarks you make to them. But if you’re not in the mood for a bit of play stop HERE, NOW. 

First of all, imagine your demon. If there is more than one, just pick the one that appears most often.

Now give it some kind of shape – human, animal, fantastic, surreal, whatever fits the feelings it creates … You might like to draw it, or find a picture of something that fits and stick it on a paper or digital slide.


Now imagine your demon speaking to you. Write down what it says – if you are working with a picture use a speech bubble…

The next step is to put yourself into the picture. Imagine that you are speaking back to your demon. You may want to just vent for a moment. But then –

Answer back. What is unhelpful about the demon’s statement? Say it as rudely, sneakily, cleverly as you can. 

And now –

Answer back again. This time… Reframe what the demon is saying … what is it about the demon’s comments that might be helpful? How? And when? Stay where you are inner editor until I ask you to come and help with… you get the idea. Tell the demon when you will let them spring into action. 

And there you have it. Writing demon. Tamed. Put in its place. Back in its box.

In a group it’s always fun to print out and post up all the demons and share the jokes. Sometimes I even hear people putting their demons away, as they go on writing…. 

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, inner editor, procrastination, strong inner critic, Uncategorized, writer's block and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to tame your inner writing demon

  1. wanderwolf says:

    I like this idea. I guess the right mind frame helps, but to make myself do the activity may remind me that the inner critic really is a gargoyle with his/her own set of helpfulness and unhelpfullness.


  2. Helen Kara says:

    I may have to purloin this exercise, if you don’t mind? I’d credit you of course. I can see how it would work well, with the right group, at the right time. My own approach to my writing demons is to hit them upside the head with my inner cast-iron frying pan. That usually shuts them up.


  3. Claudia says:

    This is great, a fun but serious exercise that will work well with BA and MA student groups and allows them to use their imagination, to externalise their internal struggles and to share this with their peers. Excellent.


  4. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Thanks Pat. What if the demons collide against you? The internal voices that demand edits, the procrastinations, etc! They keep recreating themselves and instead of, only, thinking how to combat them one engages in thoughts of self-doubt about the purpose of writing a certain piece or for a project!


  5. edq07sb says:

    Are there any writing courses, writing retreats for students that you know of Pat? Thank you!


  6. I created a little app to “kill my inner editor” – maybe my demon took the form of an app. It is called Eishapp. Basically, you write without seeing what you write. Hope some find it helpful. https://eishapp.com


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