05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Silencing Your Inner Editor

I often struggle with silencing my internal editor. The little voice that provides a running commentary on everything I’m doing wrong with my writing. Of course, that little voice can be helpful in small, controlled doses when I’ve transferred my ideas to the page and am ready to refine them. But during the creative process, all it does is feed my doubts and block creativity until my characters stop talking to me.

Ever stared at a blank screen, the cursor taunting you with its incessant blinking, and felt paralyzed? What is so scary about that blank page? Often we have more ideas than time to work on them, so why can it be so difficult to get them from head to paper (or computer)? For me, it’s the fear of failure. The ideas seem so perfect in my head, and I want to do them justice, so I put a lot of pressure of myself. Now, when this happens I simply remind myself of the following advice that many writers would have heard time and again.

‘You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one’

We waste a lot of energy talking ourselves out of writing because it might not be perfect. Why not refocus that energy into putting words to paper as they come. We can go back and ‘fix’ anything we’re not happy with later.

These fears can often continue throughout the writing process. Rather than taking off with an idea and letting the words flow onto the page, I find myself critiquing each paragraph, sentence or word, as I go along. I’ve even been known to stop mid-sentence searching for the ‘perfect’ word to describe something as inane as the color of the dirt on a character’s shoe.  Thankfully, I’ve been able to work on that bad habit, and rather than dwelling on something so small, I will move on, or alternatively, place a small note to come back to during the editing stage.

It’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s a way to let your creativity flow; to find your voice and let your ideas run wild. Once you’ve let all of that creativity out and have something to build on, you can go back and edit.

The next trick is being kind to yourself. Your inner critic will judge you and tear you apart... but if you find something you’ve written is just ‘rubbish’, have a laugh and try again. I’m sure even the most successful writers out there have cringe-worthy moments when reading over their initial drafts. It’s all part of the process.

Here are some tips to help you turn off that internal editor:

No editing: Put a ban on editing of any kind. This can be as simple as not being allowed to read over what you’ve written, or to be even more extreme, stop yourself from using the ‘backspace’ button at all. If you’ve made a typo it can be fixed later.

Set goals: Even if you have limited writing time, aim high. This is the idea behind the popular NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Participants need to complete 50,000 words in one month. It’s a big ask, and meeting that goal requires non-stop writing during precious writing time. For most people there’s no time to edit, therefore the words, and creativity, flows. 

Use a productivity app: Programs such as ‘Write or Die’ where you can set goals around word counts or time limits are extremely helpful. 

If you couldn’t possibly fathom writing an entire story without editing, then restrict it to one chapter at a time, or if that still causes heart palpitations, cut that back to one scene. C’mon, I know you can get through one scene without editing!

Many of these apps will also stop you from accessing the internet for a set amount of time - no more being distracted by social media.

Plan: This will be hard for my fellow ‘pantsers’, but it’s worth trying. Have a rough plan for your story. Sometimes, the more detailed, the better. I find if I have scenes planned out at certain points of the story, even if it’s just the overall objective of a scene (e.g. Show the development of trust between hero and heroine), it helps keep momentum. Stalling, or becoming ‘blocked’, is like holding up a ‘welcome’ sign to my internal editor. I must keep moving.

Note: Pantser = A novelist who writes by the Seat of their Pants, not taking time to plot the novel before beginning to write.

Try something different: If your self-control has disappeared and you absolutely cannot stop yourself from editing, it’s time to turn off the computer and try something else. Why not grab a pen and paper? Rewriting and amending the same sentence ten times suddenly becomes more difficult. Another alternative is to dictate your story. You don’t even need a Dictaphone. Most smart phones have a voice record/memo facility. Just hit record and start talking. No editing here. That can wait for when you transcribe it all later.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you let go of the fear and set your creativity free.

Lauren James is a country girl at heart. Raised on a small property surrounded by animals, it's no surprise she writes small town romance with lots of love for creatures great and small.

Having failed fabulously at painting, sewing and playing guitar, she finally found her creative outlet in writing strong, quirky heroines, and tough, handsome heroes with gooey animal-loving centers.

Lauren lives on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, with her beloved rescue greyhound, Daisy.

You can contact Lauren via her websiteFacebook or Twitter.


Barbara Strickland said...

Good post. I am struggling with just writing but sometimes that is really the best thing to do

Lauren James said...

I hope the post helps you with some ideas, Barbara. Good luck!

Sarah Raplee said...

You must have written this post for me!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the tips!!! I have such a strong internal editor that I struggle all the time. Again, thank you!!!

Judith Ashley said...

Lauren, I am not one who is a slave to my internal editor since I figured out my process. I think that's because I'm more goal oriented and I keep the goal of finishing the draft at the top of my "list". An internal editor has nothing to add to the goal of writing the first draft...her work comes in later in the process. I've also made peace with this piece of truth: "I've never read a perfect book therefore I don't expect myself to write one".

I love that you've failed fabulously at painting, sewing and playing the guitar because that means you are writing!!! Yeah!!!

Diana McCollum said...

Thanks for the tips, Lauren! I never can keep my internal editor under control! I'll try some of your tips.

Lauren James said...

Sarah and Diane - I'm so glad you found the tips useful. That pesky little editor can be hard to keep quiet. Good luck!

Lauren James said...

Judith, I love that you don't have to struggle with your editor and she stays out of your way until needed!

Failing at hobbies felt like a hobby for a while, but then I found writing. It was worth the wait :)