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The Watcher at the Gate

By: Gabriel Villena

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 a project, I almost always lose enthusiasm for it, and I’m 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 and self-doubt rising up. While I might wobble a bit, instead of abandoning what I’m working onI’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

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Mary Ann is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years' experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-to-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Website

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2 Responses

  1. Dona Lee
    | Reply

    Great article. I think many of us suffer the Watcher at the Gate. Thanks for sharing.

    Dona Lee writer, editor, publisher, Culture Coast host, DNA Video Producer

  2. Pat
    | Reply

    Oh yeah! That new idea, that’s the one that will be so easy to write. Leave the readers breathless. Searching for Mr. Goodwrite. I”m fighting it, but it is so damn plausible.

Leave a Reply to Dona Lee Cancel reply