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Writer’s Craft #102 – Tuning Out Your Inner Editor

December 10, 2012
Kim Neville

Kim Neville

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:

Trickery

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.

Pressure

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.

Faith

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.

Experience

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?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    December 10, 2012 6:12 am

    Writing on paper with a pen makes a big difference for me. I can fool myself that it’s just notes, and that it’s impossible to edit while I write because of the nature of the medium.

    • December 10, 2012 6:25 pm

      I agree with Michelle. And with pen and paper, I am more productive without the distraction of email and twitter.

    • December 12, 2012 3:41 am

      Interesting. I scribble plots in notebooks and paper napkins, perhaps from the same impulse. Although I write on a computer now and get frustrated if stuck with nothing but a pen to get a scene drafted.

  2. December 10, 2012 10:40 am

    “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.”

    That’s an interesting thought. What would writing feel like if it didn’t involve fear?

  3. December 11, 2012 9:51 pm

    Like Michelle, I go with a pen and paper. If my inner critic is being a real pain in the foot, I’ll sometimes write the same paragraph over and over again, crossing them out as I go, until he’s satisfied. Or sometimes I’ll leave myself a note to come back to this and move on to whatever happens next. The important thing is to not let the pen stop moving. So long as the pen’s moving, you’re making progress toward something.

  4. December 16, 2012 9:01 am

    I like the concept of “draft zero” — I have to trick myself, too. And the pressure of Write1Sub1 for the past 2 years has forced me to get my words down and clean them up later. My favorite quote from the late great Anonymous: “The worst stuff you write is always better than the best stuff you don’t.”

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