Five Ways to Shut Out Your Inner Editor, by Drew Carson

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Today’s post is written by Drew Carson, our teen contributor.

I ran into a wall today. Two walls, actually, in two different places. One was at school (waving to a passing girl), and one was at home, on the couch, with my computer on my lap. Let me tell you, the second has been a LOT more frustrating.

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So I found the root of the problem, and what do you know? It was a mental stumbling block – that annoying, peevish, and persistent inner editor, trying to tell me that my work wasn’t good enough. Well, he was wrong. Do you know why?

Because I was writing a first draft, not a final one.

If you seem to have a similar curse, consider these five tips:

1. Gain a new perspective…

You’re never going to write a perfect novel on your first go. Just get that thought nice and secured inside your head. Don’t let it discourage you, though, because Harry Potter wasn’t written in one try, either. Neither was Ender’s Game or the Lord of the Rings.

Try instead thinking of your first draft like a sculpting block. When a marble-sculptor decides to start a new project, does he quarry the finished product straight from the mountain? Of course not! He imports a huge chunk of stone and chips away at it until it looks pretty. Similarily, your finished product will probably come from a monstrous first draft. So don’t sweat it! Editing comes later.

2. Prepare!

To some of you, preparation is a scary concept. You are the people who deeply despise outlining. That’s okay – I’m not talking about outlines. The preparation I’m referring to is momentum. Gaining momentum is half the battle in writing a first draft, and you’ll be most productive if you have some.

That’s why I suggest spending five minutes free-writing before laying a finger (or cursor) on that WIP. Write anything – whatever comes off the top of your head. It could be a journal entry. It could be a back-and-forth conversation between two random characters with nothing but dialogue. As a matter of fact, I’m doing it right now. My WIP is open in another window and I’m refusing to touch it until my timer goes off. Once it does, I’ll have set a pace, and will be perfectly content to write whatever comes to mind.

If you’re anything like me, this exercise will help a lot. On Monday I did it, and wrote 1,500 words, while yesterday I forgot and couldn’t push past 500 (ughh…).

3. Cut off in the middle of a sentence…

When I first heard this one, my initial thought was, “Why in the world would I stop writing mid-sentence? I’ll forget what I was trying to say!”

If you stop writing at the end of a chapter, it’s harder to come back later and still produce words. Remember what I said about momentum?

Do yourself a favor, and write the first half-sentence of the next chapter. Maybe even one-and-a-half sentences. You’ll be amazed at how much this helps boost your creativity. Try not to worry about forgetting your train of thought – when you sit back down after a long break (and possibly some sleep), your mind will be fresh and, if anything, the sentence you finish will be better than the one you were previously thinking of.

 4. Take a walk!

If you’re really stuck, physical activity can be a hero. It uses a different part of the brain, so you’ll be opening your mind up to more diverse possibilities.

The first thing I would suggest is going outside, where there is plenty of fresh air (although indoor exercise is still better than nothing). I would also suggest bringing a pocket-notebook, so that you can record any bits of inspiration that comes. Doesn’t that tree look weird? What about that rock? It almost looks like a sleeping dog… Maybe it was turned to stone by a wizard down the street.

You see what I mean?

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5. Keep a quote in mind…

Writing may be tough, but plenty of people have done it. And plenty of those writers have shared bits of wisdom that may boost your morale. Search “inspirational writing quotes” on Google if you have to.

Here’s a couple I found:

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” –Agatha Christie

“When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.’” –Stephen King

Whatever happens, don’t let the inner editor beat you. Imagine his smug little grin when he realizes you’ve given up, and maybe that alone will convince you to keep moving!

Thoughts? Questions? Post your comments below! What helps you?

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  1. Good advice, Drew. I intend to share it with a group of newbies I will be teaching in a local workshop in a few weeks. I especially like that reminder about preparing to write. My preparation is two MORNING PAGES that I attempt to write everyday whether or not I am working on some manuscript.

    • Hi Hope, I’m just curious what Morning Pages are all about. What do you write in them?
      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Drew Carson says:

      That’s a good idea! It sounds like you have a writing schedule, which is something I really need to work on.

  2. Great post Drew! It has already helped me this morning to get motivated and un-stuck in today’s projects. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Great ideas! I’m an English teacher, and I always emphasize brainstorming freely and as much as possible in the beginning to make your writing much easier. And to remember to write down every idea without judging it first. I need to take my own advice (and yours!).

    • Hi Heather,
      This is so true, isn’t it? So many of us write a few sentences and go back to edit, thinking our prose isn’t worthy of publication. When instead, we need to write freely, be one with the pen (or keyboard) and spew out all ideas and scenarios without worry. Good advice.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Drew Carson says:

      Hey Heather!
      I agree with what you said about not judging your own ideas. Sometimes I struggle with this, and, looking back on the writing I did at those times, it seems strained and artificial. But when I loosen up and write with EMOTION rather than hardcore brainpower, the writing flows with much more grace and power.
      Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Azaria says:

    Great post.
    Although, I have always found it extremely hard to shut off my inner editor when I am writing. And I mean next to impossible. Everything has to be perfect. A lot of the time it tells me that my work is stupid, but I never listen when it says that. I sort of just straign through what it says, and take what I want. As it is, I usually don’t have trouble getting my words down. But when I do, I usually just go and edit/write another part of my book, or talk to my sisters about it, until I have the inspiration that I need. I just have to make sure I am excited about what I am writing, and then I will write my best. If I’m not, then it never turns out as good, and is usually void of all emotion.

  5. Drew Carson says:

    Hey Azaria –
    I tend to struggle with the same things. Usually, if the editor gets too persistent, I write down a bunch of garbage (intentionally). Then I can say, “Well, nothing I write will be THAT bad.”
    Thanks for the comment!

  6. Azaria says:

    Well, that’s an idea too. Nowadays I just tell myself, “If it’s bad, I’ll fix it later.” It helps a lot.

  7. Vie says:

    Hi, Drew,

    I chuckled at your brick wall–so glad you are also remembering to keep your writing life balanced with all the other fun things teens do. Then I sighed as I read about the other wall–the good old writer’s block. Yep, even this 62 y-o already struggled with that this morning. You offered sound advice. Thanks so much.

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