Monday, May 16, 2011

How do you turn off the internal editor?

Happy Monday everyone!

In case you weren't aware, Blogger was having some issues last Thursday and Friday. That's why the post sharing the winner's from last round disappeared (which has now been corrected) and why there was no fresh post on Friday.

Just a reminder, This round's writing prompt is due tonight by 11:59 pm, and it's your last day to get registered to win one of Jill Williamson's amazing books.

A writer emailed me and said, "I can't seem to get myself to write in ANY kind of journal without ripping out the pages. It's like I have an editor screaming in my head."

Yep. You're normal.

I think this is especially hard if you're pushing yourself to learn more about the craft of writing. Then suddenly you sit to write and all you can hear are those darn rules. No, I can't use that sentence - it's passive. And I used an adverb. Plus, it's telling instead of showing. And it's pretty cliché, isn't it? I have to think of something fresher. I have to think of something fresher right now ... but I can't. This story's stupid, anyway. I'm not good enough to get published. I'm never going to be as good as Lisa Samson. I'm sure she never writes a passive sentence full of adverbs and clichés that's telling rather than showing.

And so on.

The voices can get pretty nasty, can't they? Especially if you've recently received a rejection letter or a tough critique from a writing partner. Or if you've read the best book ever, like The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson.

Oh, boy, you should hear some of the things that go on in my head when I sit down to write:

That reviewer was right - my plots are all predictable. I don't have a single fresh idea.

Why am I pushing myself so hard to write this? Nobody's going to want to buy this book. I'm wasting my time. I should be folding laundry so my husband doesn't have to come home to a big mess.

It's unfair to my kids to have a mom who spends so much time writing. Maybe I should quit.

Here's the thing about the voices - they're not going anywhere. That writer who's books you adore? They have the voices too. Being published doesn't make them go away, so you're going to have to figure out how to take charge of them. Here are some things that have worked for me:

"I can fix it."

I have accepted that my first drafts are going to suck. So I just don't worry about it. Nobody sees them, so it's fine. I worry about getting the story down, and when a sentence comes out passive and/or full of clichés and/or riddled with adverbs, I adjust it if I can, or I move on. Because I know I can fix it in the second draft. The important thing at that moment is just to get the words down on the page, to make an attempt.

It's okay if my first draft is full of junk like this:

“I’ve often seen you eating the GIRAFFE,” Hannah says, pointing to the item on the menu. “It’s excellent.”

“Yes, the GIRAFFE is excellent,” I say like some kind of mindless parrot.

(If the "giraffe" is throwing you off, click here.)

Yesterday I wrote this gem:

He’s too good with his words. I’ll never be able to just sneak it out of him. He’s too much of a sneak, and there’s no out-sneaking him.

Those are three clunky sentences communicating ONE idea. It's not worth worrying about in the first draft, because I can fix it. But there's no fixing a blank page.

Appreciate the voices ... within reason

While they're not fun - and while they often say things that have no merit whatsoever - I've reached a place where I'm appreciative of the voices.

Now, I'm not crazy. (Though this entire blog post is about the voices in my head, so maybe that's debatable.) I'm not like, "Woo-hoo, the voices! I'm so glad they're here today! I hope they hang around the whole time I'm writing. I don't want to write a single word without being mentally flogged!"

But the voices push me to be better. How much worse of a writer would I be if the voices were saying things like, "Wow, that's pure gold! Another amazing sentence! Flawless!"

We should always be growing as writers, and if my voices are constantly telling me how predictable my plot is, that leads me to ask, "How can I fix it?"

Don't keep them cooped up in your head

When I'm having an extra "voicey" day, I email Roseanna White. She's a writer, so she gets it. She's honest, so she'll tell me if the voice is telling even a shade of the truth. And she's my best friend, so I know she has my best interest at heart.

Getting the voices out of your head limits their power. About once a week I either have a conversation with my husband or Roseanna where I'm saying some form of, "I hit 40,000 words in my manuscript today ... but the story's spinning out of control, and I feel like no one is ever going to read it." Just chatting with one of them helps tremendously.

It's kinda like when you're watching a movie and two characters aren't communicating some vital piece of information. And you think to yourself, "If one of them would just say how they're feeling, the other one would be able to show them why it's wrong." It's the same thing with the voices. Take away their power - tell a friend.

What about you? Do you hear voices? Any advice for your fellow writer on how to deal with her internal editor?


  1. And when Roseanna is emailed, she says something that boils down to this: are the voices giving you CONSTRUCTIVE criticism? Are they pointing out things you CAN improve? Then listen. But if they're giving you DESTRUCTIVE criticism--like the kind that say you'll NEVER do something/be something/achieve anything--those are the voices you ignore.

  2. This is probably my biggest obstacle in writing and why I haven't been able to finish a manuscript. Even when I was a little girl, I'd read books and think "wouldn't it be fun to write books" the next thought was always "You'll never be good enough at it" those thoughts will most likely forever be with me, huh?
    Maybe it is something I have to put at the top of my "to work on" list.

  3. Locking up that internal editor is HARD! Once at a NaNo meeting, we drew crayon pictures of our internal editors, then put the pictures into an envelope and sealed the envelope with tape. No noise from the editor for the entire month of November.

    I never opened that envelope. I keep it on my desk to remind myself. :) It's a silly, simple thing, but it worked for me. :)

  4. "Woo-hoo, the voices! I'm so glad they're here today!"

    You made me laugh out loud. Good start to the morning :)

    Hmm. When I'm writing... I don't really think about adverbs and stuff. To be honest, I never really "got" them. Oh, we learned them in english. But the meanings certainly didn't stick around! I just write.

    As for the voices... I don't know. I write in a diary everyday, but I just... write. And when I'm writing my novel... well, I don't know. ;)

  5. Great post! Very encouraging!
    What I always do when I'm stuck is read, the section that I'm having trouble with, over and over out-loud, giving them voices and trying to bring it to life. Somehow it makes me see what I'm doing wrong and how it should be to make it better. Sometimes I just put it down for a while and then pick it up later. Little by little it starts to show signs of life.

  6. Thanks for answering its going to help me out alot.

  7. Love this post.
    I have lots of voices in my head all the time when I'm writing lol.
    Though honestly I really don't fully understand a lot of the writing names for things like "adverbs" and stuff.
    I know the simple stuff like nouns and verbs... grr... frustrating.
    Now the voices I have in my head a lot tell me; I'll never be good enough to be published.
    I blast music and look through old books to get inspired to help them go away. =) It boosts my self confidence and get's me excited about writing again. And laughing at how terrible my writing was 2 years ago, lol.

  8. How long should a short story be?
    I figured it would be good to start writing a few short stories before I start a novel.

    Alyson :)

  9. I had a couple questions about adverbs. They're like adjectives, only they describe verbs. So quickly, loudly, boldly. In general, you want to avoid them. Why say, "he walked quickly" when you can say, "he jogged"?

    Alyson, I'm no expert on short stories. I know there's not much of a market for selling them, so if you're using them strictly for practice, I say just write however long you feel the story needs. If you're wanting to sell them, I'd Google "short story magazines" or something and see what kind of word counts they request.

  10. So glad I'm not alone!! I tend to be a perfectionist, so my voices are always yelling "too many adverbs, find a stronger verb" "you can't do that, that's a passive sentence" and "you just stated the same thing three different ways", especially if I'm not in the middle of some exciting escape from bad-guys. Often they're right and I have to force myself to go on until I've finished the chapter, at which point I go back and fix some of the things that are bugging me. When my internal editor is going on about something that has larger story impacts, I call my aunt (because she is the best editor/encourager ever) and tell her what's wrong. She listens and nods and tells me that yes, that is something I will need to note/fix but that it can wait until my second draft. Having someone else tell me that whatever needs to be fixed is NOT the end of the world and that it doesn't have to be fixed RIGHT THIS MINUTE helps a lot.