"Stop criticizing. Keep working." I knew that the longer Maida focused on her creative vision, instead of her visions of failure, the sooner she'd drop those ridiculous sunglasses and free her superpowers.

Two weeks into her daily writing regimen, Maida's Clever Critic glasses suddenly cracked. "This would be a lot easier if I hadn't just quit smoking," she said. "All I want to do is write is a love letter to cigarettes."

The hair stood up on my neck. For the first time, Maida's voice didn't sound clever; it sounded real. Raw, alive, filled with emotional energy.

"Maida, this is it," I crowed. "Do you know how many people are trying to quit smoking? Do you know how much they need someone who's been there to talk them through it? Forget your other books! Write your love letter to cigarettes!"

When an e-mail arrived that very day, I thought Maida's superhero was unleashed. But no, her message came from the paralyzing Clever Critic. Another author, it appeared, had a new book about quitting cigarettes. "This announcement," Maida wrote, "has stymied my enthusiasm." The e-mail I sent back wasn't gentle: "As your coach (and I mean this lovingly), I am ordering you to cut the crap, cork the dithering in your brain, and write what you were planning to write. Now, soldier!"

And by golly, it worked.

I wish I could include the full text of Maida's "No Smoking" essay, which explained the difficulty of quitting in terms more vivid than I'd ever heard. Whether or not she knew it, she'd written not only about smoking but about hiding her creative superpowers behind infinite distractions: "All those times we don't know what to do, all those moments in every day when we need a moment of clarity or meditation, all those times we need so desperately just to fill, are all now as empty and open as promise itself. ... Hooray."

You may be like Maida—who didn't feel as if she'd gone off course so much as missed finding a course at all. Maybe you feel as if you've been wandering in circles forever. As Maida wrote in her smoking piece, you can open to a promising future by dropping all excuses and putting your hopes and talents on the line.

If you wear a Clever Critic outfit over your spandex capes and bulletproof sequins, if you bubble with great ideas that never quite solidify—and always find a good reason they can't happen—you're probably wearing blindingly dark lenses. To remove them, stop thinking and start creating. Every day, starting today, write the music, paint the picture, choreograph the dance. I'll cut you no slack, because I'm one of you. I'm writing this, dizzy with jet lag, between a late-night book signing and an early morning workshop in a foreign country. It's a hellish schedule—and it's heaven. Some days the work will go well, other days badly. No matter. You will find your heroic mission eventually, if you Do. The. Work.


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