Saturday, October 16, 2010

Living With Your Inner Editor - Keep Your Story Going

I have at least six novels and three cookbooks in the works. On one hand, this works well for me. When I'm bored or frustrated with one book, I'll move on to the next for a while. Usually this leads to a giant burst of creativity, and I'll end up with with several pages, sometimes even several chapters flowing out.

On the downside, it means that I still have six novels and three cookbooks that are unfinished.

Contemplating why this happens, I realize that one of my problems is my Inner Editor. You know, that writer who sits on your shoulder and tells you that your writing isn't "good enough." Often instead of actually writing something new I'll read through my previous chapters and start editing them. "Hmm, this isn't clear..." or "I forgot to mention this thing about my character..." or "I should really foreshadow that..." and sometimes, "Geez! this sounds like drivel!"

Going back and rewriting isn't a bad thing. Sometimes it will lead me to new revelations. In the main story I'm working with right now (titled "Willa," after the main character, until I think of a good title) this kind of back-editing introduced a new minor character just recently, and with it, new revelations about my protagonist.

On the negative side, this also means that I have several books with supremely polished first chapters and am stuck in the middle of them.

So what can you do to stop your Inner Editor from stalling your progress?

Thank Your Inner Editor...

One of the things I've learned from hypnosis/NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) classes is that every part of you serves a good purpose. As an example, lets say you're afraid of snakes. Well, the part of you that fears snakes isn't "bad." It serves to keep you safe, and it's doing that job for a good reason. After all, some snakes are dangerous. They can disfigure you (I made the mistake of watching one of those nature programs where a guy lost his thumb to a rattlesnake bite the other day) or even kill you.  So the snake-fearing part of you is good and a friend.

Of course if you happen to work in the reptile house of your local zoo, then the snake-fearing part of you might stop you from doing your work as effectively and as safely as you need.

In the same way, your Inner Editor is a good part of you as well. First, your Inner Editor works to protect you from being hurt or humiliated. Your Inner Editor probably remembers a time when someone somewhere read your writing and told you how lousy it was. We've all had that day. Lets face it, most of us didn't spring full-blown from the womb as another Shakespeare. Writing is a craft, and like all other crafts, it takes time, experience and practice. But your Inner Editor doesn't always understand that. It just wants you not to get hurt.

And for most of us who practice hard at the craft of writing, we already know what doesn't work, what sounds phony, or "done before" or just plain hackish. So the more we grow as writers, the more loudly our Inner Editor screams in our ear.

So silly as it may sound, take a moment, close your eyes, and ask your Inner Editor to come forward. Tell it "thank you" for all the help it's doing to keep you safe and be a better writer.

...And Ask For Its Help (an NLP exercise)

Now ask your Inner Editor, since it wants you to be safe, and be a better writer, if it would be willing to work with you and allow you to write more prolifically in ways that would still allow you to feel safe, but would also help you to complete your other writing goals.

When it answers yes, ask your Creative Part to come forward. Everyone has a Creative Part - the part of us that thinks up new ideas and new ways to manifest them. We writers have Creative Parts in spades! Otherwise we wouldn't be writing in the first place! Ask your creative part to generate a thousand different ways that you and your Inner Editor can work together so that your writing will be stronger, better, more powerful, and still keep you safe.

A thousand ideas may sound like a lot, but your Creative Part is capable of generating infinite possibilities. You may find that you know what some of those ideas are...or you may have no clue what ideas your Creative Part has thought of. Either is fine. There's no reason to know what they are or to list them. Just trust that they are being thought of, somewhere in your Unconscious. Give yourself a few minutes and ask your Creative Part to let you know when those thousand or so ideas have been generated.

Then ask your Inner Editor to talk to all your other parts and to pick one or two of those thousand ideas that you can start manifesting right now, in a way that is safe for your Inner Editor and that will be the healthiest and best for all your other parts as well. Again, you may have an idea what that new way of expression is, or you might not. Just allow a few moments until you get a feeling that your parts have decided on something.

Now say a big thank you to your Inner Editor, your Creative Part and all your other parts, and get back to your writing!

Make a Date with your Inner Editor

Pick one day a week, and make it your Editing Day. That's your day for going back and polishing your work. Cleaning up plot threads and tying them together, rooting out cliches, making note of things you left out or want to expand.

Every other day is a writing day. No backtracking or editing allowed.

Often you'll find that your Inner Editor is so thrilled to be acknowledged with her OWN DAY that she'll leave you be the rest of the week.

Pick a Number and Don't Stop Till You Get There

Decide on an amount of writing that you want to get done. It could be 1000 words or 5000 words, 3 pages, two chapters, whatever's right for you.

Then determine that until you reach that goal you won't go back and edit a single syllable.

The important factor in deciding this number, and making it work is to be REASONABLE with yourself. If you churn out 20 pages a day with no problem, then setting a goal of 10,000 or more words might be reasonable. (And if you churn out 20 pages a day every day, you probably don't need this article!) If you can barely struggle through two pages - or two paragraphs! - a day, then set a goal that's high enough above your usual output to make you feel good about having written that much, but well within your ability to write, given whatever time constraints of your daily life.

Write Bad on Purpose

Sometimes the trick is to actively plan to write dreck. "Its going to be crappy. In fact I WANT it to be crappy. I'm going to write trash today...but goddamnit I'm going to write 5 whole pages of trash!" Then go and write your protagonist's shopping list, or their letter to their local newspaper editor, or anything else that sounds fun.

Often when I try this, I find that at least some of my writing is actually pretty good. Even when it does turn out to be complete garbage, it may give me a new way of looking at my character or my plot, an idea for a scene, or even for another story.

What are some of your ideas for living with your Inner Editor?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I can't even count how many book projects I'm working on because everytime I think one is trash and I've "scrapped" it, I keep going back and working on it!