Worst Advice to Give Writers

Kill Your Inner Editor. I’ve always thought it was a bad idea, but it really grabbed me by the throat this morning when I found a link on the NaNo site, to this article: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/11/nanowrimo-writers-and-their-inner-editors/ The author proudly discusses the ugly pictures that her middle-grade students drew of their inner editors, with her encouragement.

“If you ask one of the young participants in our elementary school NaNoWriMo group what an “inner editor” is, they will tell you, “It’s the voice inside your head that says your writing stinks. It shouts, ‘You can’t write a book!’, and it shakes its finger at you, telling you your commas are all messed up and your spelling is wrong.”

“To write a complete first draft of a novel in a month, an author needs to push forward, fast and hard. There’s no time to fret over the details or mechanics of storytelling.”

I’ve wondered, every once in a while, how many people abandon their finished NaNo novels simply because they can’t stand to look at the pile of crap they created. Granted that many of them should be abandoned. Still…

I’m sorry to argue with received wisdom, but the inner editor is not your enemy, any more than your puppy is your enemy because you allow it to piss and shit all over the floor. And NaNoWriMo is not a desperate race that leaves you no time to bend over and take a deep breath.

Maybe both are true if you made a last-minute decision to join in the fun, without an idea in your head about a plot or characters. And that thought makes me wonder whether the teacher simply told her kiddies about NaNo one day and then said, “Okay, kids, start writing.” To all the people who are in NaNo just for the hell of it and know that they’re going to have to pull out a hatful of tricks to produce their 50k of crap, all I can say is “Have fun.”

For everyone else, it might help you to know that the inner editor is supposed to be an assistant, a helpmate, not a monster that swallows you and your text whole, and leaves nothing behind. Unless you’re the slowest two-finger typist in the world, and have only an hour a day to devote to writing, you can write a decent, fairly clean 50,000 word novel in thirty days — without killing yourself or your editor. People babble on about their muse this, their muse that, as if inspiration is either pouring down on them from above or being maliciously denied them. But their editor? Kick it under the rug, lock it in the closet, but never, never pay any attention to it.

Go ahead. Obey your betters. Pay no attention to your inner editor, and never, ever look back. Much better to charge into the arena like a bull wanting to nail that red flag being waved in front of its nose. Or… you can learn to make use of your inner editor. Allow it to give you breathing spaces where you can take a quick look at what you’ve done, make some corrections, and move ahead feeling as if you’re really accomplishing something you wouldn’t be ashamed to let your best friend read. Or you can charge ahead with your teeth clenched and eventually give the results to that puppy to piss on.

15 thoughts on “Worst Advice to Give Writers

  1. Bravo, Catana! Telling writers to “kill the inner editor” is like encouraging them to just close their eyes and bang wildly on the keyboard. I once had someone tell me that writing is simply “pen to paper and movement.” Uh, no. That’s scribbling. And what about the times your inner editor is encouraging and helpful? When it says “Damn, that’s good;keep it.” If you’ve killed her off, you lose that too.
    Love this post! I’m really enjoying your updates on how things are progressing. Write on!

  2. Thanks a bunch, Loretta. I get so tired of the received wisdom that everybody swallows whole. And then so many of them wonder why they don’t want to keep writing. Loved your response to “pen to paper and movement.”

  3. Why do I always think of something else to say after I’ve hit the Post Comment button? LOL
    I think the “kill your inner editor” advocates are actually confusing two inner voices. I like to think of my inner editor as an analyst. I use it most when I’m trying to step back and look at my work objectively, like a real editor would. That OTHER voice, the one that tries to tell you that you’re stupid for even trying to write or that no one will ever like your work, is more like the dark side of the ego or the demon of self-doubt, whatever you want to call it. That voice is the one that needs to be squashed as much as possible. Your inner editor should be thought of as a friend who is trying to help make your writing better.

  4. Right! They’re confusing the inner editor with the inner critic. The critic is that dark part of the ego that’s nurtured by your worst enemies posing as your best friends.

  5. i agree. I actually thought it was the inner CRITIC we should avoid in the first draft. which is different than inner editor. i listen to my inner editor all the time, i edit a little as i go. but i try not to critique the story til after it’s finished.

  6. I absolutely agree with what you said. The first draft is mainly about emotion, the story, the characters (especially getting to know them and how they would react in different situations), the second draft I rewrite it with my inner editor, afterward there are a few more edits that need to be made so that the novel would have the best shape/form. Because a novel is about emotion but it’s also about the form.

    Stephen King said that writing is normal, but editing is divine. I sort of agree. Editing is divine, without it everything I write would be tossed in the bin.

    1. I mostly limit my editing of the first draft to filling out the dialogue and getting a little deeper into the characters. I think anything else would probably be too distracting.

      Not sure I’d call editing divine, but it’s an enjoyable part of the process, not something that I grump about. (not usually)

      1. I do grump about editing usually, but luckily there is NLP that helps. So maybe sometimes I enjoy it, after I tell myself that I can do as many edits as I want.
        I have this problem, maybe it’s part perfectionism, part self-deprecating attitude that doesn’t let me edit without that voice in my head, “Oh this is bad, oh I can’t believe you wrote that!” Talking about it now, sounds very LOL, but in reality, it is anything but LOL. 🙂

        1. No, not LOL at all. Your inner critic slips in there and usurps your inner editor. I guess I’ve been lucky. I’ve been getting better at shutting the critic out altogether, and don’t take it seriously when it does show up. Takes practice, and faith in your growing skills.

  7. Thanks for saying it’s not LOL 🙂
    Are you saying that you treat your inner critic like the elephant in the room? Ha ha, poor guy. I bet he feels ignored and is depressed. Have mercy!

  8. Hi, I agree. Killing the inner editor last year just about killed my novel. I wanted so much to share a snippet or two I was proud of, but while I was proud of the vision of the novel in my head, I was not proud of the words I had written down. Go figure.

    Interesting blog by the way


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