After writing about editing the other day, I remembered a post on my old blog about the Inner Editor. I thought I’d share it again in case it’s useful to anyone…
I’ve got a writing friend who’s struggling with her Inner Editor while she’s writing the first draft of her novel (which is wonderful) – it sounds pretty gruelling, with a couple of paragraphs taking hours and hours because the Editor won’t let her just write! I’ve been thinking about the problem a lot as it’s something I used to really suffer with.
When writing an email to this friend, I articulated an idea I’d been pondering for the last week or so:
I was thinking about the process of writing a novel the other day and realised that it’s a lot like sculpting stone: Michelangeo didn’t carve David’s perfect face (with that amazing profile and those sensuous lips) into the slab of rock, then make a perfect neck and then some broad shoulders; he roughed out the hunky David from a block of marble, gradually refining the whole shape from ‘blob’ to masterpiece. Tell that Editor, if it’s good enough for Michelangeo, then it should be good enough for her!
So here are my tips for making your Inner Editor shut the hell up:
- Try, just for a session or two, writing without being able to see what you’re writing. If you use Word or something similar, change the font to white, or at least a pale grey; if you write by hand, place a sheet of paper over what you’ve written. This way you will get used to not re-reading, re-writing and agonising over every single word, line and paragraph.
- Any time your Inner Editor rears her ugly head while you’re trying to write, remind yourself (and herself) that there’s a time and a place for editing and writing the first draft of your novel/short story/poem is not it. Which brings me to…
- Do not write and edit in the same period of time. Some writers start their writing session editing the previous day’s writing and that works for them, which is fine, but if you’re having problems with your Inner Editor not actually letting you write, then clearly a different approach is in order. Allow yourself to just write until your first draft is done and promise your Inner Editor that she will get her say once it is written. If you can’t manage that, then give yourself a word goal – once you’ve reached 20,000/40,000/half-way, then review and edit what you’ve done, that way you can spot and fix any problems while they’re still in progress, though you do run the risk of finding it hard to start up again when you go back to writing. (This way of working has probably helped me the most while writing A Thief & a Gentlewoman.)
- It’s great to have readers who will be honest and constructively critical about your work, but perhaps save their services until you’re ready to edit and think as an editor. Preferably once you’ve finished the task of writing, or even until you’ve given the work a once-over yourself. Their comments, however true, will only bring out your Inner Editor and put you in edit-mode, seeking out all those typos, repetitions and scenes that aren’t yet working to full capacity. Which brings me to…
- We all have sympathetic readers (at least I hope so – if not, find some, be they friends or family who like to read your genre or sensitive members of your writers’ circle) – this is their time. I’m not talking about people who don’t know anything or will just say “yeah, it’s good”, but people who are sensitive and sympathetic to the fluffy, delicate little creature the writer can be when writing that first draft. Receiving an off-hand positive comment can almost be as bad as receiving a bad critique – you’ll think “they don’t mean it”, “they’re just saying that” or “did they even read it?” A little constructive criticism together with praise of what’s working can really boost your confidence and show you where the text’s strengths lie (when you’d probably been focusing on the weaknesses!) and the minor criticism will remind you that they’re not “just being nice” and they do know what they’re talking about.
I’d love to hear anyone else’s tips for coping with the Inner Editor and writing a first draft.