Several years ago I listened to Jeanette Ingold's suggestions for quieting your inner editor. I recently came across my notes and decided to share the highlights.
Jeanette began with the observation that editors are a critical part of the writing process because they "help bring out the power of well chosen details." Indeed, it is in the details where editors shine.
All of us who put pen to paper (if only metaphorically), have an inner editor--the writer's equivalent of a conscience. "Your internal editor is no-nonsense; wants to keep you out of trouble; and doesn't want you to make a fool of yourself."
The problem with the inner editor is that "when you're trying to do something new, you don't need your internal editor looking over your shoulder. You certainly don't need your internal editor when you're working on your first draft. At that point, you're still playing with the basic ideas of your characters, what they want, and who stands in their way."
So, how do you get rid of your internal editor?
Well, you can't. But you can do the next best thing: put them to work.
Remember, your inner editor is all about details. So send them of to:
- Make a map of where the story takes place
- Create calendars and time-lines of events critical to the story
- Keep notes about character decisions
Process is also a good way to calm your inner editor. If you work systematically, it's much easier to convince your inner editor that you'll come back and correct the details that may be amiss in the early drafts.
Jeanette offered the following suggestions about process:
- Don't be a binge writer; make a plan to write every day
- Take advantage of forward momentum. Just keep going forward even if you realize something needs a major change.
- Don't worry about getting the writing perfect. Worry about getting your story on paper. There will be plenty of time with subsequent drafts to polish the text.
- First drafts should be written chronologically
- Let your first draft season for a month or so after you finish, then read it straight through to the end ("for pleasure") to get a gut feeling for the pacing.
- After that first read-through, you can unleash your internal editor.
- Now the editor will cut out everything that doesn't belong in the story.
- Have some fun and write a jacket blurb before you turn your editor lose: it will give your internal editor an editorial framework.
Finally, when you start editing, remember, "The strength of your antagonist determines the strength of your protagonist." Look for ways to:
- Make your villains more villainous
- Pump up the stakes
- Make sure your hero really is the hero--the one who makes things happen
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