A cat is like an inner critic.  An orange and white cat sticks its foot through a crack in the doorway, trying to get in.
Orange cat opening the door. She want to go inside. She use her paw to open it.

Image © mack2happy

Most writers focus on word count goals as a way to make progress with their writing.  I’ve never found them particularly helpful.  Sometimes they end up triggering my inner critic, especially because I do cycling

With cycling, sometimes paragraphs come out.  I’m a messy writer.  Sometimes my muse puts things in that I end up not using (and really need to come out).  But it’s terrible with word count goals because I can do a lot of writing and go into negative words (Scrivener for Windows would give me a negative word count).

But another option I’ve been reading about is gamification. Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong is a fascinating read on the topic.  The author uses examples in more stressful circumstances like surviving Seal training.

We’re going to hit some fun ones and apply it to writing fiction! But first, you’ll want to kick the inner critic to the curb.

Inner Critic Looks for a Foot in the Door

You know how the inner critic like gets in and monkey around with your story.  He’s always waiting for just that moment when the door opens a crack and sticks his foot in.  He can be sneaky, too, coming in through the back door, unnoticed.

But it’s common for writers to invite the inner critic openly for a visit because of the stories they tell themselves.  You’ve heard all of these:

  • “I hate first drafts!”
  • “First drafts are torture!”
  • “All first drafts are * Expletive *” (since I don’t want to do any swearing here).

This is a terrible story to tell yourself.  It sets up the writing of the draft to be excruciatingly painful and it stops being fun.  The inner critic rubs his hands gleefully together and moves in to take control.

Of course, the inner critic is trying to protect you from fear.  And it’s a weird kind of fear.  You’re probably imagining fear like what you would see a character in a movie experiencing fear at being stalked.

But fear can hide behind a lot of different things, including the types of stories you tell yourself.  At one point I worked with a writer who was terrified of submitting the manuscript to an agent. 

The story he kept telling himself?

“There’s something wrong with the first chapter.”

And he meddled with the first chapter and meddled and meddled.  It had the appearance of productivity and became destructivity.

So the first thing before you can gamify your writing is to look for signs of the inner critic.  Yeah, it leaves tracks like an animal you’re hunting (or hunting you, given this is the inner critic):

  1. The inner critic is very negative.  Torture’s a pretty bad thing, and a lot of writers associate it with writing the first draft.

  2. The inner critic ruminates (usually with negativity).  “That scene is terrible.  I’m never going to be a good writer.  Why do I write such awful scenes?” There are three stories in those sentences that no writer should be telling themselves.

  3. The inner critic sucks up energy.  Negativity will always do that.  Ever been angry for hours?  Remember how exhausting it was?  It’s bad enough to have the pollen death star sucking up energy.  You don’t want to add to it!

  4. And any place where you think you’re not good enough, feel like you don’t know enough, or even that your idea isn’t original enough.

If you’re up for some reading in the inner critic and all its wily ways, check out Banish Your Inner Critic: Silence the Voice of Self-Doubt to Unleash Your Creativity and Do Your Best Work (A Gift for Artists to Combat Self-doubt and Listen to Their Inner Voice): Jacobs, Denise: 9781633534711: Amazon.com: Books

Game on!

The goal of your games should be that they give you a challenge that stretches you, but not be so ambitious that you’re not going to succeed. 

Okay, you can tell here I like a good adventure story.  No need for any violence, blood, guts, or gore.  I don’t think those are any fun.  But an adventure?  Oh, yeah.

1. Battle to the End of the Page

You swashbuckle your way through those black marks on the page.  Your goal is to get to make the page number pop over to the next one.

Once you get that next page, give yourself a cheer.  Then maybe see if you can get it to pop over again in the next fifteen or twenty minutes.

Keep this one simple.  Just get to the next page, and once you do that, you can swing on your Tarzan vine for the next page.

2. Battle to Make the Hero/Heroine Miserable

I had a blast with this one in my Challenge #28 story, Ship of Dream Treasures.  I’d just taken a science fiction short story workshop, and the sum of it was “Describe everything.”  So I put my GALCOM heroine in a spacesuit so she could go into an atmosphere with poison air.  The suit makes her look like she’s a clown and the helmet is like wearing a fishbowl.  Of course, she has to walk across a tube in space (a space bridge, like a jet bridge) and she’s trying not to breathe too fast…and viewing a body.

3. Battle to Add More Detail

If you have a chair in your story, give us an additional word about the chair.  Is it an applewood chair?  Or is it a luxurious wing-back?  Or, like what I did, it’s a chair with programming to fit around the user who sits in it.  See how much you can get in and chuckle delightfully when your heroine’s opinion about the intelligent chairs gets into the story.

This is a great way to develop a lot of characterization.

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the games we can use to have fun writing.  Do you have any games you try when you write?  Share away in the comments!

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