Sending the Inner Editor on Vacation

I’m an editor in my day job, and I do a lot of wrestling with the issue of ignoring the Inner Editor—at this house, she’s paying the mortgage, so we don’t want her to go on permanent leave. Here are some concrete tricks and a bit of theorizing that I’ve used to help get in a creative groove.

Think a bit about what brings out your censorious side. What conditions does your critic like? These may be times of day, a room of your house, topics? Is critique a part of your job, part of a particular activity? At this level of combat, do your writing in the opposite of these conditions. If you do editing work in Word, write in Word Perfect. Edit at a desk? Write at a table, or on the sofa, or in a hammock. Until you get good at talking to your Inner Editor, though, just practice avoidance.

Construct an author persona. We all have many roles we fulfill: parent, child, worker bee, carpool mastermind, censor, critic, fabulously creative writer. Now instead of thinking about the critic, build your writer. My pal Chloie, who was a theater major before she was a writer, sees it like an actor developing a character they’re about to portray. As part of this prep, actors might make up entire biographies. How would the character decorate their house? What would they wear? What’s their favorite drink? What would they carry in their pockets? This might never appear on screen, but the actor can look at the vase, handle the object and get (back) in the zone of the character.

Name your persona. Mine is Yolanda. She likes major bling, even if it’s costume jewlery from Walmart. Heavily floral scented candles, which I only light when me and Yolanda are gettin’ down (scent is a memory trigger in the most primitive areas of our brain—you’re building solid associations when you link a scent with things). When it’s cold, Yolanda gets froufy shawls and velvet throw cushions. Point 1, these goods help me get in be-creative mind-set. Point 2, these things aren’t actively involved in the rest of my life, so they’re part of that shifting physical space to help me shift mental space.

Smaller ruts you may be in: change how you get words on the page.

  • make your computer screen to black (or purple or green or . . . )
  • change the font
  • make the font size small, so you can’t easily reread what you’ve already done
  • do your typing in a different program and paste it into the doc you’re using for the book
  • handwrite the words and type them into the book doc
  • use voice recognition software to “talk” your book

Change your writing conditions. Perhaps your efforts to create ideal, inspiring work space have only added to the pressure.

  • go write at a bowling alley (or bar or basketball game or . . . )
  • listen to loud music of a genre you don’t usually pick, or you don’t associate with writing
  • write stuff you “think” is junk or silly or irrelevant—this is to flex your muscles and play

Now the theory.

Don’t just let go of the idea of “perfect,” “well-organized,” and even “good.” Relinquish the narrative.

This is the draft. This is taking amorphous sensations, moods, characters, ideas, and scenes and translating them from impulses in your brain into something verbal and linear. It’s a massive translation from one medium to another. It takes a great deal of practice to make this translation happen, let alone smoothly or quickly, and I believe that a lot of this work must happen on paper. In my case, the first stage of words-on-paper is post-it notes, so what I type for a “first draft” may look deceptively coherent.

I wrote another post about how writing is like jogging that is relevant to this point. It may be that you need that warm-up lap before you’re really ready to work efficiently (this is the theory behind Julia Cameron’s morning pages). You may be like that scene in Apollo 13, when the engineers dump everything they’ve got access to on a table and then sift through to find the parts to build CO2 filter (this is what NaNoWriMo emulates). Both cases have some extra that has to get out there, that isn’t going to be a part of the final product but that had to be available, concrete, to get to the final.

And one last point. It may be that what you discover is that NaNoWriMo is not your way to deal with these issues. Counting words and setting deadlines may be power food for your critic, so don’t feed it! At least not until you’ve got a manuscript for it to play with.


Published by annmariegamble

Ann Marie Gamble has been putting pen to paper since her mom made her scrub the crayon off the stairwell walls (one chapter per step). Although there is plenty of inspiration to be had in the carpool lane, she likes writing her way across the galaxy as well as across town, and she especially enjoys research missions (aka family vacations) when she and the boys can get away. Her favorite place to write is a room with a view and a pot of tea.

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