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The Watcher at the Gate

October 1, 2012

In an article I’ve saved for a long time, Gail Godwin names her inner critic the “Watcher at the Gate.” The Watcher is “the intellect that examines too closely the ideas pouring in at the gates … passionately dedicated to one goal: rejecting too soon and discriminating too severely.”

Godwin writes, “It is amazing the lengths a Watcher will go to keep you from pursuing the flow of your imagination. Watchers are notorious pencil sharpeners, ribbon changers, plant waterers, home repairers and abhorrers of messy rooms or messy pages. They are compulsive looker-uppers. They are superstitious scaredy-cats. They cultivate self-important eccentricities they think are suitable for ‘writers.’ And they’d rather die (and kill your inspiration with them) than risk making a fool of themselves.”

My Watcher at the Gate is wily. It tries to get me to abandon whatever I’m working on by making me fall in love with the next great project.  My Watcher doesn’t trust I have the imagination and ability to succeed, so it gives me a way to avoid failure. You don’t have to finish, it says, just start something new.

I’ve learned this is a pattern with me. Part way into the next project, I’ll lose enthusiasm for that one, too, and I’ll be lured by yet another new idea. Experience and attention to my writing process taught me how my Watcher tries to trick me. Now when I feel my enthusiasm waning, I know it’s really fear rising up. While I might wobble a bit, instead of  abandoning what I’m working on, I’ve learned to push through. And guess what? The enthusiasm for the current project? It comes back.

Do you have a Watcher at the Gate who tries to “keep you from pursuing the flow of your imagination?” How does it try to trick you?

Reference: Watcher at the Gate, by Gail Godwin. New York Times, January 9, 1977
Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and writing coach with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

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  1. The Watcher

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