Monday, August 22

Tell Your Inner Editor to Calm the #$@! Down

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

In our crazy modern world, the desire (and expectation) for instant perfect is high. We want things to work right the first time, regardless of what those “things” are. They might be gadgets, relationships, or even our words.

This is especially tough on us writers.

A first draft is all about imperfection and getting ideas down. It’s where we make our mistakes and run down dead ends and cause a mess. It’s where the creativity happens.

Our inner editors don’t quite understand this process. Sure, they mean well, but they want us to be perfect and they do all they can to help us achieve that. Even if it means micromanaging us from the backs of our brains. And backseat writing is rarely helpful.

What Brings Out Your Inner Editor

Your confidence level in a story and your ability to write it determines how pesky your inner editor will be. If you feel good about the draft, like where it’s going, and the words are flowing well, the backseat writing will be minimal. Your editor will see you have everything under control and just keep an eye out for trouble spots. It’ll likely be a positive experience, and the ideas she throws your way will be sparks of inspiration.

If you’re less sure about the story or your ability to write it, your editor will follow you around like an overprotective parent. She’ll whisper in your ear and make you second guess what you’re doing. Are you unsure about a character? Your editor will point out every flaw, every corny line, every potential pitfall you wrote. It won’t matter if that character is a diamond under the construction dust, because they aren’t perfect “right now.” On bad days, your inner editor might even shove you aside so she can do it herself (and though she’s a great editor, she stinks at writing).

When she’s getting in the way of your creative process, it’s time to ask her to leave.

Quieting Your Inner Editor

Depending on how strong-willed your inner editor is, you might have quite the fight on your hands to keep her quiet. If you’re lucky, a gentle talking to will be enough to make her realize she’s stepping on the toes of your muse (and nobody wants to get her mad). Sit your inner editor down and say:
“Editor, I value your opinion, and when I’m ready to edit I’ll bring you in, promise. I know you’re worried about me, but it’s okay, I’m not alone, Muse is here with me. We need privacy to focus on this draft, though.”

This gentle reminder is usually enough to get her to realize she’s overstepped and back off. But if your editor needs a firmer hand, you might have to get tough. Cross those arms, put your foot down and slap on your “I’m not kidding around her” face. Tell your inner editor:
“Look, Editor, I know it stinks but you have to wait your turn. You’re making too much noise and it’s hard for me to think. You need a time out on the balcony. The fresh air will do you good.”

The more protective editors will realize now they need to let go, even if it’s a tearful parting. But if she’s being really stubborn, threaten her with early draft beta readers. (Inner editors are very territorial.)
“I didn’t want it to come to this, Editor, but if you don’t pipe down I’m sending these nine rough chapters to my friends and letting their inner editors have a shot at it first. Is that what you want? No? Then there’s the balcony. Take a book with you, cause I’m going to be a while.”

This will quiet down most inner editors. For the most tenacious ones, you might need to bring in some backup. Feel free to use me as the heavy. Tell your inner editor:
“Listen, Editor, I know you mean well, but you’re not helping. Yes, I used thirty-seven adverbs in that chapter, but Janice said placeholder words were totally fine for a first draft, and I’ll fix them later. Right now, it’s about getting the story right. So do me a favor—go sit over there and research strong nouns and verbs so you’ll be ready to go when I am, ’kay?”

You might have to get tough, and you might feel bad about sending your inner editor off when she means well, but if she’s causing you stress and doubt she needs to leave you be. It’s okay to tell her to wait while you finish your draft and get your ideas straight.

If all else fails, push yourself away from the computer, take a deep breath, and scream:
“Editor, calm the #$@! down and leave me alone!”

She’ll get the hint then. And if not, lock her in the closet with duct tape and bailing wire. That does the trick every time.

Has your inner editor ever made you crazy? What are some ways you’ve dealt with her? 

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. "Threaten her with early draft beta readers. (Inner editors are very territorial.)" Priceless.

    And a genuinely good idea in many cases. If you really think your editor is being harsh out of habit, going straight from draft to friends (maybe one friend if not a full beta circle) might be just the thing to force something written-- and even find out it's Not That Bad. And if the editor shuts up instead, that's a win too.

    1. Totally :) Sometimes we need those outside eyeballs to reassure us.

  2. Haha I love this and it makes me soo happy you wrote about this! My poor internal editor is duct taped in the closet because she just. won't. shut. up! She's stubborn that way :)
    Once, I had to take a time-out from writing to read a really terrible book just to show her that hey, my writing isn't that bad! It totally helped my inner editor cut me a bit of slack.

    1. LOL I love that! make her read bad writing, that's genius :) What a great way to put self doubts into perspective.