Saturday, February 19, 2011

Looking on the Write Side: Turning Off Your Inner Editor

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Photo by Dan Patterson via flickr
One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years is that it’s getting harder to turn off my inner editor when I read for fun. Things I never would have noticed before jump out at me. Sometimes this is good, as I’ve noticed subtleties in work I might have missed, but other times it hurts my enjoyment of the story because I see things that I feel someone should have caught and fixed, or see things that I would have done differently.

I’ve accepted this as an occupational hazard of being a writer. I know too much about the inner workings of crafting a story, so I’m naturally more critical of what I read. But I have found a few ways to help counteract my writerly nature.

Don’t read on the computer
For me, computer = work. Either I’m working on my own manuscript or critiquing one for a friend. This is one reason why I’ve been resisting e-books, because a screen makes me look at the words with a more critical eye.

Don’t read right after an editing session
I’ve found that when I’m in editor mode and working on revisions, I can’t get out of that mindset right away. I need time to let the brain spin down.

Read something different from what I’m working on
A different genre, market, or even POV make it easier to see the story and not the text. It’s clearly "not my work" so my inner editor could sit back and relax.

Turning off my writer’s brain isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, but most days I can usually find a way to lose myself in the story and not look at how it was created.

Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at Book Focus.


  1. I feel the same way. Now that I've completed my novel, including the editing and polishing, it's hard to read for enjoyment. My brain automatically checks for sentence structure variation, filtering words, etc.....I also have a Kindle so if the book doesn't hold my attention - like immediately - I abandon it and download something else. I want to read for enjoyment again, but I think I'm just too close to the writing process to turn off that inner editor. I'm sure it will get better as soon as I stop tinkering with my MS and start querying.

    Great post Janice!


  2. How true, how true! All of it. The computer does make it feel work related, so I too have held off on getting an e-reader (but may cave in eventually...)

    Ever since I started writing, I have changed my tastes in reading, simply because of that inner editor. I write fiction (mysteries), but with very few exceptions, do I read them anymore.

    Nowadays, I only read nonfiction. Worlds away from what I do, and the only reading I enjoy these days.

  3. I'm especially bad if I've just spent the past hour doing tight line-edits...I definitely know this feeling. Sometimes it's frustrating because I'll want to read a book and can't get through it, and other times (if I haven't been doing those line edits) it's actually nice. Often the writers who spend the time to make the prose shine are also the ones whose plot and characterization rocks, so it also helps me pick out books that I can really get immersed in.

  4. Funny in the hood: I never thought about that with a Kindle. I'll set books aside if they haven;t grabbed me after three chapters, so I can only imagine how ruthless I might be with an ebook. I hope it gets better once you're out of edit mode! That usually works for me.

    Jill: That's a shame your tastes have changed so much you can't really enjoy what you love writing. Hopefully it'll come back to you after a bit. At least you found something to enjoy though, and nonfiction probably gives you ideas!

    Megan: I have favorite authors I read (or reread) for when I'm feeling especially editor-y for exactly that reason. I admire their writing so much I don't have anything to edit ;)

  5. I often have this process running in my head when I'm reading or watching a movie. Except for me what happens is I start working out what tropes are being used and what I should expect later.

    I've never found that this lessens my enjoyment, rather that my enjoyment comes from seeing how the tropes I know are put to use, sort of like seeing a play or musical you know well just to see a new interpretation.

    Though I'm perpetually looking at published writers as people to learn from, so the back of my mind is always storing techniques and styles I see in a mental catalogue.

  6. Finally, a writer who believes me on this!


    This has always been a challenge ever since I wrote and completed my first three novels.

    All my close e-pen pals and everyone in my former critique group don't have this problem, or at least not to my extent, and never understand how this felt.

    It sounds like you do get it, and while I'm with you and my old critique group that reading is essential to writers, there are times

    But everyone has their own deifition of "Bad" just we do "Good." Many people hate the books and writers
    I love, because of their ignorant or pre-conceived notions, and I admit I'm guilty of this too, but at least I'm trying to not be so narrow until I've read a bit of it.

    Conversely, there are books that while I don't "Hate" them, they're not my taste either, no matter how many millions they sell, and I don't have to be a jerk to feel that way.

    This is something I will discuss on my blog soon, as it plays a vital part to why the writer in me was burnt out, and pretty much was in an emotionally tortured coma of sorts.

    For those of you who read this and are still stuck in that awful place in your mind and heart, remember that it won't last forever, and everyone snaps out of it at different times in different ways.


  7. Paul: Hold on to that! That's a great way to view stories, both written and seen.

    Taurean: Everyone likes different things, and I too went through that stage where I didn't understand how so many folks like "bad" books. Eventually I figured out that just because I liked or disliked something didn't make it bad or good. I think since writing is so personal, it's easy to take it personally, and see bad when it's just different.

  8. You're right, Janice, but it can sometimes be hard to make peace with yourself about it when all the writers around you semi-beg you to read a book or writer that you know isn't your preference, and you've given that writer, or specific book, countless chances before, and still don't like it.

    That said, what annoys me the most is when people have serious misconceptions about the books you love that simply aren't true.

    I know a writer who hates Harry Potter, but while I'm not super-fanatical about it, I loved the books and movies when I gave them a chance, that said, the third movie based on the third book was a letdown because they changed the order of events way too much, and left key things out of the movie that made the book one of my favorites in the series.

    I still haven't finished the last two yet, so NO spoilers!