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Sunday, March 1, 2009

How Do I Turn Off My Internal Editor?

I received such terrific advice in the comments on my previous post, I feel the need to follow up on this internal editor issue.

Back when I first joined my local RWA chapter, there were a few published authors in the group, but the majority of us were still unpublished. Because there were so many of us newbie writers, a big emphasis within the group was on teaching. We critiqued, we talked about craft, we did workshops, and we had some topnotch teachers. In my case, I'm thinking the lessons may have taken deeper root than was necessary or intended. From that time forward, I turned into an obsessive nit-picker, nearly crippled by my internal editor. There, I said it.

Do I feel better? No, I don't. I've known this was a problem for quite a long time but can't seem to fix it. It's finally come to this--I'm chasing my own tail and getting nowhere. You might be surprised if I told you how many manuscripts I have in progress, and I keep getting more ideas all the time. But none of them are getting written. I'm determined to change that. I must change.

Here's what my friend and fellow writer, Taryn Raye, had to say about turning off her internal editor.

"Write like your life depends on it and throw caution to the wind. I try to do that each time I start a new manuscript. I duct tape and gag my internal editor and toss her in the closet. I've joked about it - that I slip a little bread and water under the door because I'll need her later when I'm done, but when I'm writing, I try to shut her out to the best of my ability."

To my knowledge, (correct me if I'm wrong, Taryn) she's written nine full-length manuscripts in a relatively short period of time. Nine! So, her method is--evidently--successful.

When I went looking on the net for information, I found several articles about turning off the internal editor. Most of them are repeats of each other. But there was one paragraph, and two lines in particular, on Daily Writing Tips that really struck home.

"When you edit your first draft, you'll have all sorts of ideas of what to change. But when you write your first draft, you want to turn off the internal editor in your mind, that super-ego that looks over your shoulder and criticizes everything you do. Editing is different from writing. Most people can't successfully do both at the same time. And when you do your first draft, you need to focus on writing."

Well, that pretty much says it. I know what I need to do. The problem is summoning the willpower to do it. My biggest fear is ending up with a 400-page mess. That I.E. is one powerful little varmint when she takes hold, and she gets stronger with time.

Three or four years ago, I tried something that I've never since repeated. I wrote what I referred to as a Bare Bones Book in a Day. I remember posting about it to the KYRW loop and suggesting others try it. I sat down and wrote the bare skeleton, including notes to myself, of a book from beginning to end in a day's time. If I remember correctly, I ended up with 18 or so pages. But the entire scene by scene sequence of the story was there on the pages. I've never done that since, but I imagine turning off the editor is essentially the same concept --just write whatever comes to you to work through the story and get to the end. Am I correct, or am I missing something important?

I'm going to try this with my work in progress. All comments and/or suggestions are encouraged and very welcome, so let me hear it. How do you ignore your I.E. and just get on with it? Or... do you also have a real problem with the little varmint?



  1. Devon,

    For me, writing is more fun and I'm more productive if I.E. is locked out of the room until the first draft is finished. I've tried editing as I go, but it's like a long slog in a snowstorm (uphill, of course).

    I'm eager to hear how you like your new Taryn-inspired process. ;)

  2. Magdalena,

    The first attempt at "stream of consciousness" writing begins today after hubby leaves for work (2nd shift). Is that how you would describe the process? See, I can't imagine writing a paragraph and then NOT going back over it and spending time on sentence construction, word choices, order of sentences, and so on and on. I don't have this problem with ANYthing except an open ms. I write straight through a blog post. I write straight through everything else that isn't on a ms. page.

    The "obsession" got much worse after I got published. For some reason, the I.E. is telling me that by the time I write through the ms. to the end, it must be a polished product and ready to go out the door. I'm wondering if that's because I had to rewrite that first ms. several times before I got it right.

    I'll let you know how I fare. :o)

  3. Good Morning Devon!
    *yep- 9 mss. in about 2 1/2 years*

    For me, I think the trick to turning off my Internal Editor is to take a gentle step back in how I approach what I'm writing.

    I try to write as freely as I would with a blog or a letter to a friend. I try to write for myself first- for the pure entertainment of getting the story down.

    I think it's about shutting down the part of my brain that tells me something's wrong with the last line or paragraph or chapter I've written. Instead I try to focus the story to grow outward from my heart and make it onto the page/screen before I give I.E. permission to show me what needs to be fixed and polished.

    I know it's really hard to curb the desire to go back and check just one paragraph because I end up rereading and changing things throughout the entire work. I still catch myself doing that because I.E. tends to break loose from her restraints from time to time. Usually I can keep her in check though.

    I think the more I write, the more "she" gets that the first draft is NOT the time to interrupt me. She works for me- not the other way around.

    When she does interfere, I get stagnant and lost in the pages and words she wants me to worry myself to death over. It's around that time I find my characters clam up and don't want to tell their story anymore. They hold back because she's constantly talking over them, the big blabbermouth, and pointing out all their faults and wrongdoings.

    My characters hate her, apparently. That's why they refuse to talk to me until she shuts up. She's like that loud, crass family member or friend who does nothing but create drama where there doesn't have to be any. In fact, it would seem to me, she's the ultimate drama queen! LOL

    You'll knock her down a notch or two today though- I'm certain. Tell her she has to wait her turn and until then, she can sit in the waiting room outside your office and twiddle her thumbs! LOL

  4. Taryn,

    You inspire me. In fact, it was yours and Teresa's comments yesterday that inspired me to try this. I'm getting prepared to go to work. I'll report back tonight and let you know how I did. Thank you! :o)

  5. I don't know why, Devon, but it seems like I always get your posts 15 or 16 hours after you do them. I'm on the computer all the time, so I don't know why. Hmmm...
    Anyway, you sound like me. I have at least 10 or 15 stories started, and 1 to 2 I work on all the time. I have to defend myself though. When I get a good idea, I worry that I'll forget it or lose it if I don't get at least part of it down. So don't feel bad.
    I also tend to let my ie run me sometimes. I can't help it. I used to check over my officers reports when they turned them in at the end of shift, so it's natural for me to be critical, in myself and in others. I think I'm learning to take control though, because I'm getting better about not interupting the flow of words when I'm on a roll.
    Good luck figuring it out. Let me know the secret when you do, please.

  6. Jennifer, it's weird that my posts aren't showing up for you. I've noticed that Blogger's been acting strange lately. Today, when I pulled up Taryn's blog, there was the header and sidebar, but the area where the posts are was blank. Happened on mine a couple of nights ago, too. I had to go completely out of it a couple of times before it would all fill in.

    It's nice to know I'm not alone on this internal editor issue. I'm taking a break right now. Can't sit here for hours on end and type--not that I'd even want to do that. Things around the house have to be done and my daughter must be fed and have her diaper changed, plus she requires frequent drinks and some attention. :o)

    But... I have made some progress already. I've already discovered a few downsides and upsides to this free streaming method. But mostly what I've found are positive things. I'll blog about those tonight and tell you my total word count for the day. Not that you will be impressed. Even at my fastest, I probably only produce about half what the rest of you do in a day's time.

    And I hear ya on all the partials. Me, too, lady. I've got a shelf loaded to capacity with binders (the ones I've printed) and more on my computer and flash. If I could finish them all, I'd be one very happy little writer.

    More later... ;o)


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