For anyone familiar with NaNoWriMo, you’ve probably heard the encouragement to “Ignore your Inner Editor” during the month of November. Just get the words down on paper, no matter how poor they are. Forget proper grammar and sentence structure. Ignore plot holes and mistakes. Don’t even backspace or fix a typo! In the words of Nike brand – Just Do It.
Easier said than done, right?
Sometimes, silencing your inner editor is actually more of a feat than the writing process itself. This Editor is the nitpicking voice in the back of your head that will hyper-criticize anything from your entire plot to character voice to the structure and verbiage of a single sentence. The one thing all IEs have in common is that, if they scream loudly enough, they make it almost impossible to move forward in your draft. They make the doubts seem louder than the words you’re trying to put to paper. In short, the Inner Editor does not understand when it’s needed and when it needs to go away.
So, this week, we’re going to look at a few ways to silence that Editor so you can finish your draft.
1) Change The Way You Talk About Your Draft
This one comes first because for many writers, it seems to be the most difficult and the most important step in the process. For the most part, writers are aware that the first draft is going to be rough…it’s us telling ourselves the story, so it’s expected to be replete with long-winded rants, OOC moments, mishandled worldbuilding elements, etc. But writers can also be a self-deprecating bunch, and many that I’ve known have fallen into the groove of constantly bad-mouthing their unfinished draft, as if to preempt the criticisms of others by beating them to the punch. When I’ve done this to my own writing, I tend to find that my ironic, self-defensive comments become the inner voice that I use to address my story to myself. In other words, the story you tell yourself becomes the story you live – and it gives your Inner Editor fuel to fling back at you when you’re trying really hard to write a draft worth coming back to. If you find your tendency is to refer to your writing in detrimental terms, try changing your self-talk and giving that critic in your head less fuel for the flames.
2) Surround Yourself with Affirmations
If you have a permanent or even semi-permanent writing space, try hanging some inspirational quotes, pictures, or even excerpts from your own writing around your workspace. The visual reminders can serve as a mood-boost at your writing lowest, and reading the positive affirmations can also replace the Inner Editor’s critical commentary in your head with more positive ones, changing the course of your thinking and your outlook on the draft as a whole.
3) Get Someone Else’s Opinion
Writing can often be a lonely process, and there are certainly those writers who prefer not to share, show, or talk about their craft with anyone. However, there’s great value in having even just one confidant who you can entrust with your story, to come alongside you in the doldrums. If you have this person – or people – it’s often helpful to take the part of your story that your Inner Editor is critical of, and get their feedback on it. Either you’ll find something that does need changing, and you can fix it and move forward…or you’ll discover that it’s really just personal criticism, not grounded in the reality of your story as seen by someone who isn’t buried in it 24/7.
4) Identify the Concern and Remind Yourself That You’ll Come Back To It
Sometimes, the Inner Editor springs from a place of vigilance over the notion that you’ll forget what needs to be fixed once you come back to the draft in the editing process. If you don’t want to kill your momentum, but you can’t seem to move forward without doing something, you can try to appease that critical voice by leaving yourself a note in the story, a reminder of what to fix or what to research in order to improve it. Taking the time to acknowledge what your concern is, and then assuring yourself you’ll come back to that later, is often an effective tool to silence that uninvited Editor.
Okay, I know this seems contradictory…why give in to the Inner Editor? Isn’t this supposed to be about silencing that annoying voice while we draft? Well, yes. But it’s disingenuous to ignore the fact that sometimes, as you’re drafting, you may run into something that just doesn’t work. Whether it’s a character arc, a plot point, or even an important scene that didn’t go just right, these things can derail the entire momentum of your project. And for some writers, this can’t wait to be addressed in the second draft.
Sometimes, that Inner Editor has some pretty good first-draft critique.
In this case, what I’ve found most helpful is to identify the place where I started to feel “wrong” about my draft. If I comb through that spot, I tend to find a character decision, plot deviation, or on-the-spot choice I made that doesn’t really work with the rest of the story, warping everything that comes after it. If you experience these same pinpointed doubts, the best solution may be to identify and correct the misstep, and let your Inner Editor slink off, proud of its accomplishment, while you continue with the draft.
It doesn’t always serve the writer, or the story itself, to listen to the voice of the Inner Editor while cranking out the first round of words – quite the opposite, in fact! Still, there are times when you can save yourself a lot of headache and heartbreak by tackling a problem with the draft before it propagates into more problems. Stay sensitive to your story, fill your mind with the positives, and always remember – you can’t edit what you never put down on paper.
Do you have any helpful methods for silencing the Inner Editor while you draft? Leave them in the comments below!