Kim Neville writes contemporary fantasy. She has sold stories to On Spec and Leading Edge and is a graduate of Clarion West. When she’s not writing stories or hanging out with her husband and daughter, she likes to visit the beach near her home in Vancouver. You can learn more about her at www.kimneville.com.
Recently a friend was lamenting her inability to finish a first draft. She’s got plenty of ideas and a solid handle on writing craft. The problem? She can’t write a sentence without her inner editor piping up to tell her why it’s not good enough.
Cultivating a sharp critical eye is an essential skill for a writer. But what do you do when your inner critic paralyzes you? How do you get that first draft out so you’ve got something to work with?
Here are some things that have helped me:
Sometimes the only way through to the end is to fool myself. My first drafts are always called “Draft Zero”. They’re less than first drafts. They don’t even count. Somehow it’s easier to write a story when I’ve convinced myself it’s not real. I also use Scrivener so I can only see the scene I’m currently working on and am less tempted to tinker with previous ones. Kind of like the writing equivalent of keeping your chocolate stash hidden in a cupboard.
It’s easier to ignore that critical voice in your head when you’re in a time crunch. I attended Clarion West this summer. Secretly I wondered if I’d be able to complete a story every week. It turns out I could. The deadline mobilized me. NaNoWriMo can be a powerful tool for letting loose. Critique groups are great for productivity too. Knowing the group is expecting a story helps force the words out.
I think sometimes we worry that if we banish our inner editor we may never see her again. Not true. She’s yours, a part of you. That not only means you have the power to tell her to get lost; it also means you get to call her home when you need her. It helps to remember to keep that faith.
It’s always this way, isn’t it? Over time I’ve realized the doubts, the criticisms, that sinking fear the sight of a blank document provokes, they never go away. But you learn to be okay with it. Beginning a new story is a writer’s version of skydiving. The freefall can be intoxicating. So embrace the fear. It’s part of the process.
How do you handle your inner editor when you’re writing a first draft? What techniques do you use to allow the words to flow freely?