Wednesday, February 06, 2019

5 Ways to Turn Off Your Inner Editor and Get More Writing Done

inner editor, get more writing done, productivityBy Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Our inner editor is an enemy to our muse—here’s how to shut it up.

I think writers would get a lot more written if there was a first draft keyboard without a delete or backspace key, and a mouse that didn’t let you click on anything but the menus. Sure, those first drafts would be a mess, but we’d be free to just type and let the words flow without the ability to fix them—so there’d be no inner editor telling us to go back and tweak it.

It’s only natural yo want to to write the best draft possible, but sometimes the creative process needs to be set free to flow unhindered to get anywhere. Constantly stopping to tweak or fix a word can sap our creative energy and lower our productivity.

Now, I’m not saying you have to go crazy every writing session and make a mess, but setting aside some time to write without that inner editor nagging you is a liberating experience. The more you get used to it, the less that editor shouts in your ear while you’re trying to work. Maybe try it one or two times a week and see how it goes. Or do it for a week and see how it affects your productivity.

Here are five ways to keep your inner editor quiet while you write:

1. Turn off “show misspelled words” in your writing program

I don’t know about you, but when I see those red squiggly lines appear under a word I HAVE to fix it. That stops me from writing, interrupts my thoughts, and my writing slows down. But if I don’t see them, I can keep writing and not notice the typos as much. I don’t have that need to back up and fix it RIGHT NOW!

Save the corrections until the end of the session and fix them after you’ve spent your creative energy.

(Here's more on telling your inner editor to calm the heck down)

2. Use word sprints

inner editor, get more writing done, write more
Go faster. Much, much faster.
Word sprints were designed to ignore the inner editor. You just pick a length of time—ten to thirty minutes is typical—set a timer, and write as fast as you can without stopping until the timer goes off. Don’t worry about typos, or even changing thoughts. If you used the wrong word, keep going. If you’re not sure what comes next, hit a few hard returns and pick up later in the scene.

Will it be messy? You betcha. But it’s a way to train yourself to ignore editing as you go. And after you’ve gotten used to it, it’s actually okay to use the backspace key a little. By then, you’ll probably be writing far about your normal word count anyway, so you can benefit from slowing down and ending with a cleaner draft.

3. Don’t write right after an editing session

Writing and editing take different skills, and if your brain is loaded for one, you won’t have what you need to do the other. Shifting from writer brain to editor brain can take time, and if you’re still in editor mode and looking for things to edit, you’ll second guess every sentence. Write first, then edit afterward.

(Here’s more on shifting between drafting and editing)

4. Don’t look at your monitor

If you can’t see the words you just wrote, you won’t be tempted to go back and fix them. Turn off your monitor if you can’t keep your eyes on the keyboard. It’s hard at first, especially if you like to re-read the last sentence when you get stuck, but you get the hang of it after a while.

5. Don’t read what you wrote on your last writing session

quiet your inner editor, write more, be productive
Shush your inner editor.
Editing is for editing sessions, writing is for writing sessions. When you sit down to start writing, you have a limited amount of inspiration and creative energy. If you use up a good chunk of it editing what you did the day before, you have less to apply to this writing session.

One caveat here…some writers get inspiration and energy from reading the last scene and getting back into the story. If you’re one of these, and this helps, then try something else on this list. 

(Here's more on deciding if you should go back and edit before moving on)

Writing takes a lot of focus, but sometimes it’s good to turn your fingers loose and let them run wild on the keyboard. It’s a nice way to mix up your process and keep it fresh, and a fun way to add words to your sessions and keep your productivity high.

It also helps keep that picky inner editor at bay and lets you focus on the story and not on the technical aspects of writing.

Do you have trouble turning off your inner editor when you write? What tricks do you use?

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue 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.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. The best thing I do for first drafts is to write out long hand. I don't do very much editing when I write like that, and it is almost stream of consciousness. When I go back to transcribe it, I can then edit as I put it into the software program. I also find I'm more portable when I write long hand--I can take a notebook anywhere and just write. My word counts are perhaps not as high, but it did work rather well for me, when I wasn't able to have a dedicated time to write each day and had to write on the fly in little bits and pieces.

    1. Great tip. It's much harder to edit like that than on a keyboard.

  2. Love all these ideas! Try being an editor by trade and then writing!

    To protect my muse from the obsessive editor-head, I often use a trick that foils ed-hed every time: record instead of write.

    By telling my tale, I not only avoid worries about spelling, punctuation, etc. I also have the reality check of the voice filter.

    I came up with this as an offshoot of my process of reading my writing aloud to catch snags in the flow, figuring it might work just as well doing it from the start -- instead of head-to-'paper', it would be head-to-voice.

    I discovered that by doing this, I had better dialogue, cut descriptions down to what was needed for understanding or scene support only (less word-love), and a better feel for the pacing of a scene -- plus, it was fun!

    Have been wondering if I should try voice-driven software...but not look at the screen. Can imagine my editor-head grabbing the lace fan as the auto-correct software used odd replacement words that sounded like the right word. (shades of mangled texts!)

    Get post, Janice, as always. The editor is just the editor, always behind the muse, who holds the real keys to the creative castle.


    1. I bet! I had trouble with ereaders in the early days because I felt if I was on a screen, I was working, and thus edited everything I read.

      Interesting. I have a few writers friends who swear by dictation as well.

  3. I have to disagree about not reading what you wrote last session. I find that reading the last few paragraphs, maybe a page, of what I wrote the last time helpful in getting me back into the story. JMPO.

    1. And that's why I added that caveat there to skip that tip if you were one of those writers :) Lots are, and I am normally, but when my inner editor won't shut up, avoiding editing mode of any type helps.

  4. My inner editor is a judgemental little bee-atch, who likes to remind me that whatever I'm putting down IS JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I should DELETE EVERYTHING and START OVER. Vicious cycle that it is. *sigh* I've become better about ignoring her. but I think I'll try turning off the screen. (I always wondered why anyone would do that...)

    1. LOL oh they can be indeed. They can lie, too! It sounds odd, but the screen thing helps. Just focusing on they keyboard and not looking up can also work if you're on a laptop.