Conversations with the Inner Editor

I have a huge pile of books on writing. Some of them cover writing in general, others on writing science fiction, and others on very specific aspects of writing: character, scene design, etc. I used to tremendously enjoy reading these books, and they used to tremendously inspire me; I would read a few chapters and then go and write like crazy. To say the least, this has changed.

It might just be a lack of self-confidence on my part, but now I find that reading all this advice just puts a burden of perfection on me. “Show, don’t tell.” “Use round characters.” “Always escalate the conflict.” Yeah, yeah, I’m trying! My inner editor is loud enough without famous authors cheering him on. I’m just trying to write, not to be perfect.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. In truth, I want to be perfect; that’s why I have an inner editor. I think that most people feel this way, but then again most people don’t try to write stories. We’re often told that suppressing this inner editor is the key to finally being able to write, and there’s a truth to that of course, but on the other hand, pushing him down and just going for it isn’t the best solution either.

If your inner editor is too prominent, then he’ll shoot down everything that you try to write; you’ll never get anywhere. If he’s too quiet, then you’ll write and rewrite tons more than necessary to finish a story, because you didn’t listen to that nagging feeling that maybe you should think things through a little bit. That’s kind of where I am. I won NaNoWriMo three years in a row by just writing and writing, but every time I ended up with a story that needed considerable work.

So, my conversations with my inner editor are in a state of flux. I need to find that area where I’m able to listen when he tells me that something isn’t working out, but ignore his background “you’ll never be good enough” chatter. And of course, since I’m trying to get published, that background chatter is louder than normal and harder to distinguish from the good advice.

It all comes down to this, I suppose: “The only way to write good, salable words is to write a whole lot of bad, unmarketable ones first.” If I acknowledge this, maybe, I can get my publishing worries out of the way, my inner editor will quiet down a little bit, and I’ll be able to write happily and more effectively.

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4 responses to “Conversations with the Inner Editor

  1. Oh, I know that problem all to well. I may have some sort of advice, although I’m not sure I’m already capable of putting it into words that anyone beside myself can make sense of… I’ll try anyway.

    At some point into writing/drawing I realized that I only managed to produce really good stuff when I a) was in a good mood, and b) didn’t feel that I absolutely had to get it right. In other words, my best stuff started out as random doodles without any specific goal in mind (apart from the subject). So I started telling myself that I was well capable of creating anything I could visualize instead, and of the high quality I was striving for (well, that’s definitely not true, but it made my inner editor shut up, so who cares).

    I think, that may actually boil down to the following: Relax, think of how much fun this is gonna be, and then do it, without further thinking about anything at all. If you can’t shut up your inner editor, you can as well try to ignore it away.

    Hope this helps. Works for me, anyways.
    Good luck! 🙂

    • BTW, I forgot – if you do it right, you’ll hear your inner editor anyways as soon as it finds something that doesn’t work out.

      Also, you’ll find that a lot of the bad, unmarketable stuff isn’t as bad, even though you may not want to show it anyone, but a potential source for great ideas instead.

      • Ironically, I went home after writing this post and had one of my most satisfying sessions of writing ever. I think part of my problem is when I start to internalize other people’s ideas of how my writing should be. I want to get published, so I have to do that to a certain extent, but I have a tendency to take it way too far too fast.

      • Ah, sounds familiar, too. Actually, with the first draft you may not want to care too much if you have trouble with it (you can always revise stuff after all), at least until you feel comfortable with the added pressure of writing to be published.

        With worldbuilding and planning you should care, after all, if you want to write sf, it should be recognizable as such to an extent. But then, if you do that right, you’ll already have a foundation you can safely build on.

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