Everyone has a little voice or person or thought in their head while they’re doing things that evaluates and critiques whatever they’re doing. It’s a highly useful skill that allows you to problem-solve on the go, in the middle of the thing. It allows the archer to adjust her aim so the arrow hits the bullseye; it tells the mechanic that the wrench she grabbed is too small; it tells the nurse he needs to increase the dose just a smidgeon.
It tells the writer that their writing sucks and should never be published.
Okay, okay, it actually tells the writer that maybe this doesn’t make sense grammatically and there’s probably a specific word for that phrase you just typed and your audience will or won’t appreciate that tone of voice. I call my voice the inner editor and he’s actually a pretty great guy.
The trouble is that he can get out of control really quickly because he tends to be a little, eh, emotional. And he freaks out a lot over the smallest problems to the point where he is willing to tell me that my writing sucks, there’s no way I can fix it, and I should never publish anything less than perfection.
If your inner editor/critic tends to inhibit you from writing, then you need to learn how to write them off. It’s not that they aren’t needed in the writing process, it’s just that they aren’t needed in the production of the first draft.
See, writing should at its simplest consist of:
- A first draft
- A revised draft
- A published piece
Now you may have a lot of revised drafts in the middle and your published piece may be, in fact, the first revised draft. However, every piece of writing has to start out as a first draft.
And this is where your inner editor can make trouble. If s/he is trying to overwhelm the first draft, then you might need to learn how to write him/her off, and then invite her/him back when you go to revise the draft.
The beauty of the first draft
A first draft is an inner editor’s struggle. They just want to get to the revised draft already, but until you have a first draft, there’s no need to rush into revising the first draft.
Your first draft should be a hot mess of words on the page. It should not read fluidly, it should not have perfect transition sentences for every paragraph, and the paragraphs may not even exist in a coherent order.
Why? Because the whole point of a first draft is to release your ideas. You should come back to refine them, and that is what your inner editor is for. However, your inner editor has no business doing their job until the first draft is ready to be revised. If they come into the middle of the first draft, then, of course, they’re gonna freak out; you haven’t even got all of your thoughts out.
How can your inner editor organize something that doesn’t exist on the page yet?
The answer is that until you have a lot of experience writing exactly what you want in revision, your inner editor needs to wait. And I’m sorry that the best way to learn how to do that is to go to the work of writing a first and revised draft, but that’s the best way I’ve seen yet.
Writing off your inner editor
So: how do you deal with an inner editor who’s a little too gung-ho on decimating your writing before you’ve got the first draft down?
The answer is within you, my young padawan.
Aka it’s different for everyone.
A lot of writers find it’s helpful to do a little mental imaging and imagine who their inner editor is. Because the inner editor has an important job and is an important part of the writing process.
Once you know who that little goober is, imagine locking them up. I like to imagine making my inner editor really small so their voice is smaller, and then plopping them into a mason jar with a tiny couch.
Every time I hear a discouraging thought or word, I remember I locked that away and I ignore it and keep writing anyway. I placate the voice by reminding it that I’ll be sure to let him out to do his job once the time is right.
Other writers just practice ignoring the inner editor. They will acknowledge that yes, this sentence is grammatically atrocious, and then make a mental note to deal with it later.
Then they go back to that sentence and they fix it in the revised draft.
Pump out that first draft
The goal of writing off your inner editor is literally to write the first draft regardless of what your inner editor thinks. And then once you’ve finished that first bout of writing, you can let them edit.
Free writing—writing without worrying about making it perfect the first time round—is 7 times out of 10, better writing than constantly going back and fixing stuff while you’re putting it onto the page.
And once you stuff your inner editor and just write as badly as you want, you’ll often find that once you let your inner editor back into the game, you’re actually not upset by what you’ve written.
You might even publish that rubbish.
What do you think? Does your writing process include a revised draft? How do you give yourself the freedom to write what you want without crushing yourself with the need to be perfect? Share in the comments!