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Squishing Your Internal Editor

10 June, 2008

Virtually everyone who writes has days when their internal editor takes over. If you’ve experienced this, you’ll know what I mean. Suddenly, everything you’ve written so far seems badly written or terribly clichéd or just plain boring. You agonise over every new word because, all of a sudden, you feel the need for what you’re writing to be absolutely perfect in your mind before you even think of writing it down. Put simply, you feel as if what you’re writing just isn’t good enough and, as a result, you grind to a halt.

Logically speaking, this sort of thinking is pointless. There are very few things that you have to write perfectly, that can’t be edited later. Many writers also have access to computers, which makes editing positively easy. Having days when you go ‘off the rails’ and write rubbish can even be beneficial, clearing out all those ideas that have been bugging you but you know are never really going to work. Once you’ve got them down on paper or screen and tried them out, you can simply delete them (or file them away somewhere, if you’re like me and keep everything), safe in the knowledge that you at least tried.

So why does the internal editor take over sometimes? Speaking from personal experience, I think it’s often down to self-doubt or, at the most extreme end of the spectrum, fear. Many people who write want to create something that people will want to read, perhaps even something that will sell and make it into print. The fear comes from feeling that you’re not quite good enough to create that something, that no-one will want to read your work because it’s silly or inconsequential or unintellectual, or any other critical term that gets used to describe literature (often literature that sells incredibly well, incidentally, but that’s a subject for another blog entry).

Luckily, there are ways to squish your internal editor, at least until the first draft is complete. For some writers, it’s as simple as not reading back over what they’ve previously written and just charging forwards. Others make notes about things they want to change, but don’t let themselves make those changes until they’re onto the second draft. I’ve even read of one writer who finds that loud music helps distract the part of his brain that is most critical, allowing him to just get the words out.

Ultimately, being able to edit your work is incredibly useful, but not if it prevents you from ever finishing your first draft, or even first chapter. The key is not to worry too much about what you’re writing and always remember that you can go back and fix things later. Very, very few writers are able to get things perfect first time. And when you’ve got to the end and congratulated yourself and taken a few days (or weeks, or months) off? Well, that’s when you’re allowed to bring your internal editor out of their box again!

  1. 10 June, 2008 6:03 pm

    “……..For some writers, it’s as simple as not reading back over what they’ve previously written and just charging forwards……….”.

    I’ve never thought of this, since I compulsively read back each sentence I just wrote, and consequently feel creatively drained after just a few minutes.

    I’ll try your advice.


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