The Open Window: The Inner Critic MacGuffin

 Insights on Creativity by Quinn MacDonald

NOTE: This article is about a kind of Inner Critic—an event that turns into a destructive force in our lives. I’m currently writing a book on our Inner Heroes and how they can confront the Inner Critic through art and writing. I have a call for entries to contribute to the book. Please take a peek and see if you’d like to send in a contribution.

The Vanishing MacGuffin

Love movies? TV dramas and mysteries? Then you know the MacGuffin.

A MacGuffin is a plot device writers use to start the action and put the characters in motion. It can be an object that the protagonist wants to obtain (think: Maltese Falcon) or a threat that forces the main character to take action. The MacGuffin’s purpose is to serve as a catalyst. Once the characters and the plot have your attention and interest, the MacGuffin fades gracefully into the background, usually to be forgotten by Act Three. MacGuffins aren’t that interesting by themselves. In spy movies, they are often “the papers,” or “the suitcase,” the contents of which we never see.

What makes a movie awkward, or a TV show stumble, is the MacGuffin taking center stage just as it should vanish.

This idea makes a good metaphor for behavior as well. As youngsters, we all adopt a MacGuffin into our life. Maybe you were the youngest and felt you could never be as smart or accomplished as your siblings. Maybe your parents couldn’t afford a great college, so you went to a community college and then to a state university.

All of those experiences hurt, all of those experiences shaped your soul–maybe put a dent in your spirit or a pulled thread in your dreams.

And then, like a true MacGuffin, it disappeared. Except when it didn’t. When you won’t let it fade, when it remains a focal point, you creative character can’t develop fully. You can’t find a plot line that makes sense. Like a bad TV show, you can’t grow up to be the hero of your own story because the MacGuffin is taking center stage.

When you keep pointing to the pulled thread in your dreams, it becomes the focal point of your dissatisfied life.  Instead of blending into the texture of a well-lived life, the MacGuffin moves from a pulled thread to a dropped stitch, to a run that zigzags through the pattern of your life.

You construct excuses around it, to inflate the importance until you are more familiar with the pulled thread than the rest of the fabric. “Well of course I didn’t get the promotion. My parents sent me to a state university.” “Yes, it’s my third divorce. It’s inevitable, my sister was the gorgeous one.” What makes this tragic is not the genuine pain, but the elevation of the MacGuffin to the main plot line.

Most of your MacGuffins should fade by the time your personality grows up. The MacGuffin was meant to shape us, not become the crutch we lean on.

If you are over 40, it’s time to show your true character, realize that how you solve problems is what people are interested in, and let that MacGuffin fade. It’s not serving you. You are creative, resourceful and whole. Let your creativity serve you.

© Quinn McDonald is a mixed media journaler and creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives. Quinn’s book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art is published by North Light. She is working on her second book for North Light Books.

You can read more of Quinn’s blog posts here: The Open Window


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