I often struggle with silencing my internal editor. It’s the little voice that provides a running commentary on everything I’m doing wrong with my writing. Of course, that little voice can be helpful in small, controlled doses when I’ve transferred my ideas to the page and am ready to refine them, but during the creative process, all it manages to do is feed my doubts and block creativity.
Ever stared at a blank screen, the cursor taunting you with its incessant blinking, and felt paralysed? What is so scary about that blank page? Often we have more ideas than time to work on them, so why can it be so difficult to get them from head to paper (or computer)? For me, it’s the fear of failure. The ideas seem so perfect in my head, and I want to do them justice, so I put a lot of pressure of myself. Now, when this happens I simply remind myself of the following advice that many writers would have heard time and again.
‘You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one’.
We waste a lot of energy talking ourselves out of writing because it might not be perfect. Why not refocus that energy into putting words to paper as they come. We can go back and ‘fix’ anything we’re not happy with later.
These fears can often continue throughout the writing process. Rather than taking off with an idea and letting the words flow onto the page, I find myself critiquing each paragraph, sentence or even each word, as I go along. I’ve even been known to stop mid-sentence searching for the ‘perfect’ word to describe something as inane as the colour of the dirt on a character’s shoe. Thankfully, I’ve been able to work on that bad habit, and rather than dwelling on something so small, I will move on, or alternatively, place a small note to come back to during the editing stage.
It’s important to remember that a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s a way to let your creativity flow; to find your voice and let your ideas run wild. Once you’ve let all of that creativity out and have something to build on, then you can go back and edit. The next trick is being kind to yourself. Your inner critic will judge you and tear you apart... but if you find something you’ve written is just ‘rubbish’, have a laugh and try again. I’m sure even the most successful writers out there have cringe-worthy moments when reading over their initial drafts. It’s all part of the process.
Here are some tips to help you turn off that internal editor:
· Put a ban on editing of any kind. This can be as simple as not being allowed to read over what you’ve written, or to be even more extreme, stop yourself from using the ‘backspace’ button at all. If you’ve made a typo it can be fixed later.
· Set yourself goals. Even if you have limited writing time, aim high. This is the idea behind the popular NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Participants need to complete 50,000 words in one month. It’s a big ask, and meeting that goal requires non-stop writing during precious writing time. For most people there’s no time to edit, therefore the words, and creativity, flows. Use a productivity app/program such as ‘Write or Die’ where you can set goals around word counts or time limits. There are also consequences for not writing continuously. The descriptions below are taken from the Write or Die website.
- Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
- Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if, and only if, you continue to write.
- Kamikaze Mode: Keep writing or your work Will ‘unwrite’ itself (I’ve never been brave enough to try this one).
· Plan. This will be hard for my fellow ‘pantsers’, but it’s worth trying. Have a rough plan for your story. Sometimes, the more detailed, the better. I find if I have scenes planned out at certain points of the story, even if it’s just the overall objective of a scene (e.g. Show the development of trust between hero and heroine), it helps keep momentum. Stalling, or becoming ‘blocked’, is like holding up a ‘welcome’ sign to my internal editor. I must keep moving.
Note: Pantser = A novelist who writes by the Seat of their Pants, not taking time to plan the novel before beginning to write.
· Try something different. If your self-control has disappeared and you absolutely cannot stop yourself from editing, it’s time to turn off the computer and try something else. Why not grab a pen and paper? Rewriting and amending the same sentence ten times suddenly becomes more difficult. Another alternative is to dictate your story. You don’t even need a Dictaphone. Most smart phones have a voice record/memo facility. Just hit record and start talking. No editing here. That can wait for when you transcribe it all later.