But lately I’ve been facing a problem.
What some readers may not know is that I’m self-employed and work my day job as a book editor. This type of job requires that I edit numerous pages of text on my computer screen every day. This job demands an ever-vigilant internal editor.
My problem is learning to turn off that internal editor when it’s time to work on my own book.
When I reread what I wrote during my previous writing session, a little voice in my head says, Oh, that’s stupid. The writing here is really sad. This scene is falt. Your story stinks!
I don’t need the negativity right now. I struggle enough with self-doubt and insecurity with each project. That internal editor doesn’t help me one bit.
I wonder if climbers of Mount Everest fight the same mental battles. Look how high that peak is. My legs feel like cement slabs. I’m not as good as other climbers. My technique stinks. Why do I even try? I’m never going to reach the top.
But like mountain climbers, novelists must keep climbing and never, ever give up. We must learn to keep our eyes on the prize and dispel negativity.
How can I shut off that pesky internal editor? By reminding myself of which stage of the writing process I’m engaging. This isn’t the revisions stage; this is the plotting stage.
During the first draft, the quality of the writing shouldn’t be an important consideration. What’s important at that stage is getting the whole story down on paper, from those beginning pages to the climax and the final wrapup.
My problem is, I’m sometimes too much of a perfectionist. I want each page to be as perfect as possible before I move on. There’s that editor again. But if I’m not careful, I’ll find myself endlessly tweaking opening pages instead of moving forward and finishing that first draft.
Right now is not the time to sweat the small stuff—whether I’m using the right adjective or whether that character should have blue eyes or hazel eyes. What’s important right now is getting the story down, whether it’s perfect or not.
Once I’ve got the story down and I’m happy with the big picture (not the little details, mind you), then I can think about smearing on the icing of characterization and word choice later. Then I can obsess over the writing of each page. That’s what the revision stage is for.
But I’m not at the revision stage yet. This is my first draft. There’s a reason why the engine needs to come before the caboose. And that’s true for novel writing as well as for many areas of life. Make the big stuff the big stuff and keep small things in their place.
What about you? Do you ever begin a project and find your internal editor criticizing everything you do? What steps have you taken to overcome this problem?
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