I recently had an interesting conversation with my 17-year-old nephew. You see, he’s writing a novel as part of NaNoWriMo. He’s got some great ideas and an amazing story but, he asked me, how do you turn off that inner editor? I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
The inner editor is that little voice in our heads that keeps interrupting as we’re trying to get things down on paper. It judges us and corrects us and questions what we’re doing. Sometimes it speaks so loudly and so often, we can’t even begin to write. Other times it makes us stop and restart several times over so that completing an article or a blog post takes way longer than it needs to.
If your inner editor is keeping you from getting things done — from writing that ebook, starting your blog or finishing your report — here are a few suggestions.
Have a Plan
Before you start to write, brainstorm on the topic you’re going to cover. I love brainstorming because it’s so forgiving. Anything goes; there is no wrong or right. The inner editor doesn’t care about brainstorming and doesn’t even pay attention. Then take a look at your ideas and see if you find some patterns that might suggest a framework for what you’re writing. From there, you can create an outline. Graphic organizers can be great for organizing and outlining your ideas.
Writing comes first then editing. I know it seems obvious, but I think a lot of us get held up by the need to get everything right on the first go. When you’re writing, do just that — write. Allow yourself to put your ideas down in whatever form they come out. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it probably won’t be. That’s why you’re going to go back and fix it later. When you approach it with that understanding, it’s much easier to let the ideas flow.
The Bait and Switch
Now this one is just a mind game, but it works for me. When I was in university I’d spend hours writing and rewriting my introductions. Then I realized that you really can’t write the first paragraph of a paper until you’ve written the rest of it. So instead of sweating over the beginning of my papers, I’d start each one with a decoy introduction. I’d write any old thing down just to get past the hard part and then move on. This works pretty well whenever you get stuck. Write some placeholder text without the expectation of perfection and make a note to yourself that you’ll need to go back to it later.
Give the writing a break. Put it aside for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s amazing how much clearer those problem areas you were stuck on will appear when you’ve had some distance from them. This is when you can let the inner editor go crazy and also when she’ll be most effective, because now she won’t be distracted with all the writing stuff.
Give Yourself Time
The inner editor tends to become louder and more irritating the less time you have to complete a piece of writing. If you give yourself enough time to plan, to write and then to edit, it makes the whole process possible.
What about you? How do you deal with your inner editor?