Everyone has one. Some people manage to ignore theirs; others allow their inner critics to run their lives. My inner critic has a name: Alfie. It’s a play on Alf, the TV show from the ’80s. Alf was snarky, unruly, and obsessed with eating cats. Here’s a short clip from the show that may give you an idea of why I would name my inner critic after an orange muppet.
Alf is actually an acronym for Alien Life Form. I like to think of my inner critic as an alien life form, not part of me. It’s just as snarky as the TV Alf, but not generally unruly or obsessed with eating cats. Lately, however, it’s become unruly. What I mean is that it has started messing around in areas where it normally has no power, specifically in my speech writing. Understand that normally I have no problem coming up with ideas, developing the structure to express it, and delivering it as a speech. It’s almost as easy as breathing for me. But not in the last week. I have to write the most important speech of my life, one that I pray I’ll have the opportunity to give at the International Speech Competition in Orlando, and I spent the last week completely blocked thanks to Alfie.
It’s not that I didn’t have ideas. I have lots of ideas. Ideas from old speeches. Ideas from quotes. Ideas from song lyrics. Ideas from things that friends have said. Ideas from images posted on Facebook. I have pages and pages of ideas. None of them good enough, according to Alfie. All of them trite, overdone, doomed to failure. I gave myself pep talks. I used affirmations. I cradled my trophy in my arms to remind myself that I deserve this chance. Alfie wouldn’t budge.
On Thursday, I decided that I was fed up with Alfie. I banished him to his more usual haunts in my brain, and I committed to a speech concept. I had an hour between the time I got off work and leaving on a field trip to the ballet with some of the boys from work. I sat down with a notebook and did what Alfie had been stopping me from doing. I wrote a rough draft of the speech. It wasn’t pretty. But it was on paper.
Friday, Alfie was back and on the attack. Stupid story, he said. Too childish, too simple. Everyone’s already heard it thousands of times. Booooooring! According to Alfie, all the other contestants will be sharing brilliant stories, shining with originality and creativity. I’d be lucky not to be laughed off the stage.
In the middle of one of Alfie’s rants, I got a text from Sandy who hosts the writing group I attend. She wanted to make sure I was coming to group. I texted back an excuse. How could I read such a crappy speech to my writers group? Sure, it’s a first draft and they know all about those, but they would see that no amount of rewriting was going to transform this speech into something worthwhile. When I got home after work, my dogs encouraged me to go anyway. I went, and the writers in my group were great. They enjoyed the story and helped me believe that this can be turned into a great speech.
The morale of this story is simple: Although dogs and Alf share a common interest in eating cats, dogs are much better companions for writers.
Gratuitous video, just because. I love singing this song whenever Alfie gets out of line in my head.