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Literary Arts

Village resident and writer Rebecca Kuder’s new book, “Dear Inner Critic: A Self-Doubt Activity Book,” is available at Dark Star Books and Epic Book Shop. A launch for Kuder’s new publication will be held Friday, May 31, at Epic Book Shop. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Villager’s new book engages with ‘inner critic’

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It’s no secret that we are often our own barriers when it comes to doing things that might bring us joy or even just taking up space in the world — though it can be difficult to pin down and interrogate that part of ourselves that tells us “no.”

What, exactly, is that part of ourselves that stops us before we begin? What does it look like, sound like? And how can we tell it to step aside?

These are the questions that local resident and writer Rebecca Kuder’s new book — “Dear Inner Critic: A Self-Doubt Activity Book” — seeks to address, offering 30 days’ worth of activities to help folks identify and set boundaries with the “inner critic,” the inner voice that can bring personal exploration to a screeching halt with a simple, repeated, “You can’t do that.”

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A book launch event for “Dear Inner Critic” is slated for Friday, May 31, at Epic Book Shop.

Kuder, a fiction and creative nonfiction author and educator, told the News in a recent interview that she’s spent years brokering a relationship with her own inner critic.

“I’ve been using the tactics [included in the book] for a while to get through my own self-doubt issues, which are very real,” Kuder said.

In the book’s preface, Kuder points out that self-doubt is something that affects many people — particularly those with marginalized identities — almost as a matter of course, but knowing how to talk back to that doubt isn’t an innate skill for many, and the resources to learn how are not always apparent or available.

Kuder writes: “I have carried self-doubt as if there was no other way to be. I was not taught how to release myself from this burden. I was not taught to renegotiate my relationship to the inner critic.”

“Dear Inner Critic” comes as a kind of off-shoot from workshops with a similar focus that Kuder has presented for several years. Inspired by a 2016 workshop Kuder took with writer, cartoonist and MacArthur Fellow Lynda Barry, Kuder said she originally began using elements of the approach laid out in her new book while teaching in the individualized Master of Arts creative writing program at Antioch Midwest.

The new book asks readers to engage with the activities laid out within its pages in an effort to, first, establish safe limits for themselves as they delve into the work of exploring parts of their own minds. Later, they are asked to identify, and even personify, their own inner critics by imagining what they might look like and drawing them. The book encourages readers to do this exercise, and all exercises included, in pen, pointing out that the urge to erase is often prompted by the inner critic.

Giving the inner critic a visage, Kuder said, can help folks recognize it when it speaks and, perhaps, understand where it comes from.

“For me, I envision sort of a Barbie version of myself, because part of my toxic lineage is absorbing that I wasn’t Barbie, in some ways, growing up,” Kuder said. “But in all the different times I’ve drawn the inner critic, it’s never the same — so it can be a shapeshifter, too.”

After establishing what the inner critic might look and sound like, the book encourages readers to interact with the inner critic by both writing about and to them — a practice Kuder said she has undertaken herself many times.

The book encourages readers not only to go easy on themselves, but also to champion their own efforts — to be curious, to act as their own cheerleaders, to say “yes” to trying new things, and to, quite literally, give themselves gold stars as they go along. The book’s cover art includes images of gold stars — and, as a lovely testament to Kuder practicing what she preaches, this reporter noted that Kuder’s personal copy of the book includes additional gold star stickers placed there by the author herself.

The activities prescribed in “Dear Inner Critic” are informed and inspired by a number of other resources, which Kuder includes in the book’s bibliography. Among those inspirations is “Banish Your Inner Critic,” a handbook aimed at creatives looking to shore up their work written by former resident and YS High School alumna Denise Jacobs. Other inspirations include Lynda Barry, Brené Brown, Bonni Goldberg and Ariel Gore — the latter of whom founded Literary Kitchen, the “School for Wayward Writers” that published “Dear Inner Critic.”

Kuder said that although “Dear Inner Critic” can indeed be used by those who engage in creative work, the book isn’t necessarily framed that way.

“This is not intended just for writers or people who are creative, or people who get paid to do things in terms of creative expression,” Kuder said. “It’s really for anyone who wants to play with and maybe shift how self-doubt works.”

At the same time, the book is mindful that the inner critic, which can reach deep into every part of a person’s life, can often be informed by personal trauma. Kuder encourages those working through the book to keep their mental health at the forefront of their concerns, offering resources for dealing with trauma, including ReStoryative Somatics, a method of healing trauma offered by local resident Amy Chavez.

“It’s in our bodies, in our ears, in our brains that we’re not good enough or we shouldn’t do things,” Kuder said. “But I hope this book helps people realize, ‘Actually, I’m a person who deserves to be in the world and can do fun things and make things — sometimes for no reason at all.’ The world doesn’t really validate that for us, you know?”

Acknowledging that though the inner critic is not one’s true self, it is still a part of who a person is, the book also encourages readers not to think about their inner critics as simple villains. Not unlike an inner editor or censor — which Kuder said are distinct from an inner critic — sometimes the critic is acting as a kind of risk manager, but often an over-eager one that doesn’t yet know when to hold its tongue.

“Risk management is really important sometimes — in my case, I would say, my inner critic comes from a place of love and fear.”

Understanding this, Kuder said, means that much of the work outlined in “Dear Inner Critic” is focused on establishing appropriate boundaries within one’s own psyche.

“Really, it’s all mind tricks — but they can be really helpful,” Kuder said, adding that using many of the methods she’s laid down in her book have helped her refine her own long relationship with her inner critic.

“I would say we have an open avenue of communication — we bump into each other sometimes,” she said. “I’ve gotten really good at setting boundaries with her.”

A book launch event for “Dear Inner Critic: A Self-Doubt Activity Book” will be held Friday, May 31, 6–7:30 p.m., at Epic Book Shop on Xenia Avenue. The book is currently available at Epic Book Shop and Dark Star Books.

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