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Monday, July 20, 2015

Shutting Up The Inner Editor

For most of us authors, when we first ventured into writing, we were aglow with unbridled creativity, and the story flowed unhindered through our fingers onto the page (or screen). I know it was like this for me with my first novel, and similar still with my second.

Then, by the time I started the third, something had shifted. I got stuck. A lot. I found myself second-guessing every sentence, every word, and--on the big picture level--the whole idea itself. What had changed from when I'd first picked up pen and notebook and just spent hours happily writing away?

Answer: I had started actually learning the craft.

Along with the (very necessary!) immersion in and acquisition of the standards of fiction writing, the rules and conventions, came a new filter in my brain, one that would come in handy at revision time. All that learning and honing my craft had awakened my inner editor. And don't get me wrong, she's great! So nitpicky, so discerning, so merciless, she slashes through the sludge of First Drafts with the ease of a hot knife sinking into butter. She's just what I need after I finish writing the story and start on the crucial polishing.

Problem is, she's exactly what I don't need when writing.


Photo by Laura Ritchie, available under a CC BY 2.0 on Flickr


In that initial phase of getting the bare bones of the story down onto paper/screen, the presence of an overly critical, persnickety, question-every-word inner editor is counter productive. It's inhibiting to the point where I will sit in front of my PC, fingers hovering over the keyboard, and discard every thought that pops into my mind as not up to par with the high-polished standards of my inner editor. I type something only to backspace the heck out of it the very next second. "I've used this exact phrase three times already. Gotta come up with something better." And then I'll sit there, pressuring myself to think of a more fitting description while the minutes tick by. If I'd just used the lame description I'd had before, I could have already moved on with the scene and gotten more of the story down. I could always edit it later--but you can't edit a blank page, as La Nora so succinctly put.

But such was my fate after having absorbed that much knowledge about writing--when it came time to write, it took me far too long to get anything down. I overthought everything. Ev-ery-thing. My inner editor wouldn't shut up.

Until I stumbled upon a method of shutting her up that's so easy it's mind-boggling.

To sum it up: It's writing in sprints with a set word goal. Yes, I know. It's ridiculously obvious. But I'd never written like this. I'd set myself word goals for the day, but not in combination with a set amount of time, and so I'd sit there, squandering away my time for writing because I didn't exactly have a deadline. Turns out, I work well with deadlines.

I saw a dear writer friend of mine--Melia Alexander--do these sprints of 15 minutes during which she had to write 250 words, and my first thought was, "I could never write 250 words in 15 minutes!" I really thought that was an unattainable writing speed for me. Until I tried it, and found--to my great surprise--that I could easily do this. With one condition, though: I had to forcefully shut up my inner editor.


Photo by Shawn Rossi, available under a CC BY 2.0 on Flickr


With only 15 minutes to write 250 words (that's a little more than 16 words per minute), I knew I couldn't stop to ponder the intricacies of "Is this too much telling?" or "What's a better word for 'thrust'?" I couldn't stop to edit myself, because I didn't have the time. So simple, and yet so liberating. Did my inner editor pipe up and start critiquing what I wrote? Sure she did. But I didn't listen to her. Every time she began speaking, I responded with, "No time. Will fix later." And I kept on writing.

Make no mistake, though, it niggles at me that what I'm writing isn't my best effort. I know much of what I jot down like this will have to be edited, but that's not important. I'm getting the words down, I'm getting the story out there, and I'm not mired in paralyzing self-doubt anymore. It's important to be able to write the whole story.

And once I'm done, I'll let my inner editor out to play and have her fun.

What tips and tricks do you have to outsmart your inner editor and be more productive? Let me know in the comments!


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Following her lifelong passion for stories and languages, polyglot Nadine Mutas went from tangling with tongues at a translation agency to wrestling with words in her writing den. She pens wickedly sensual paranormal romances, and her debut novel, Blood, Pain, and Pleasure, which was published on May 28, 2015, has won several awards for excellence in romance writing. You can find more info on Nadine and her books on her website: www.nadinemutas.com

11 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

I am blessed my inner editor isn't very visible during my first draft. I believe it is because I've given her specific tasks to look out for "just", "that", "as" to name a few. She also has to keep track of seven characters who appear in each book of the series and remember what they look like, etc.

Perhaps because I'm more auditory than visual, she becomes Very Picky when I do my final read through - out loud.

So glad you found a way to outsmart your inner editor!

Paty Jager said...

Nadine, That's great you found a way to deal with the inner editor. I have one of my long time critique partners that sits on my shoulder. The things she used to catch in my ms now click the minute I start to type them and I chance the word. After a while a lot of the editing will become second nature.

Sarah Raplee said...

Okay, you convinced me, Nadine. Next first draft, I'm writing in sprints!!! I have the Incredible Hulk of Internal Editors. Must outwit her!!!

Judith's idea of distracting her with a few tasks is worth a try, too.

I also use 'comments' when she's persistent to write myself notes like 'expand description', or 'check child's age' or 'research helicopter rescues'. Or even just 'Fix later.' Then she knows I won't forget.

Thank you for your help with this!

Diana McCollum said...

When I begin my day of writing My internal editor bothers me like crazy. The best advice I've ever received was from a writer friend. Since I've been doing this I don't stumble along reviewing three chapters before starting the days work. What I do is allow my editor the last two pages I wrote to review and edit. That's it. Then it's time to move forward with no more editing. Good luck on sales!

Nadine Mutas said...

Judith, that's a really good idea, giving the inner editor some tasks to focus on during the first draft. Thanks for that tip!

Nadine Mutas said...
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Nadine Mutas said...
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Nadine Mutas said...

Paty, it's great that you've internalized your CP's comments to the point where it improves your writing as it happens. I bet that produces much cleaner first drafts!

Nadine Mutas said...
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Nadine Mutas said...

Sarah, yes, making notes and comments along the way to edit something later really helps moving forward with the writing. I do that, too!

Nadine Mutas said...

Diana, that's good advice about only reviewing two pages before getting back to writing. I always read what I wrote the day before, to get back into the mood, but sometimes that's a lot and then the reviewing takes up too much time. Thanks for the tip!