Turning Off That Internal Editor

fiction_workshopOver the last few weeks I’ve been making some excellent progress on my third novel, tentatively called Drone. I’m hoping to finish the first draft this year.

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?

4 thoughts on “Turning Off That Internal Editor

  1. Joy

    I sew. I have made 30+ costumes for our church. When I make one, I want all of the seams straight and reinforced, and all pieces coordinated. It can take me anywhere from 1-4 hours from start to finish. If I really didn’t care about how they look, I could have finished faster. But I do care! I want them to look good for the Lord. I had to remember that I was doing it for God not what others thought. So, like you, I organizes my “story” into an outline. I had to have all my sewing tools together so that things were organized and ready for me to sew. Then I prayed. I turned each sewing session over to my Father God. Once I began to sew in this way, I got things done much faster, neater, and they were still coordinated. Go figure!!


    PS-People that sew have to edit their work too.

  2. Craig M Scott

    Adam, your comments on turning off the internal editor really really really makes sense in relation to my Bible study methods. You make sense! For instance, in my prep for last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I had copied and pasted at least 55,000 pages of materials to use as a resource for my sermon from 1 Cor 15:1-11. I also had applied the 5 methods of interpreation of the passage and had read at least 15 commentaries on these verses and highlighted and reread my research materials. I hadn’t yet begun to write my sermon (Normally, my sermon notes are around 4,000 words. These words are not my “written out sermon” notes).
    My sermon on Sunday night was on 1 Cor 3:10-15.
    Yikes! These two sermons (term papers) were due on Sunday and I couldn’t call my teacher and ask for another day or two. I couldn’t call in sick. They had to be done!
    Side note: I had to call on my resident teacher (the Holy Spirit) to help me in this “impossible” task.
    So, finally, I just started writing. Then, the sermon notes began to come to me (may I say they began to flow). I couldn’t type fast enough. Sunday came and I couldn’t wait to preach the insights God had given me. They were a “rhema” from God.
    When you said, “My problem is learning to turn off that internal editor when it’s time to work on my own book” it really made sense. It helped me.
    Your fan,
    Craig Scott

    PS: This is my normal process in my weekly sermon prep.

  3. Adam Blumer Post author

    Hi, Craig. Thanks for writing. I’m so glad the advice was helpful to you in your sermon prep. I can see how our tasks would be very similar. Have a great week!

  4. Adam Blumer Post author

    Thanks for writing, Joy. With writing it is freeing sometimes just to write without a plan. There is merit to this idea. But…every novel I’ve read that made sense had structure. And structure means the author must have been following some sort of plan. I’ve always been an organized type, but other authors encouraged me to try writing without an outline. I can’t imagine ever making this mistake again. I can see how planning would affect your project and mine in a very similar way. God had a plan, so I guess we need one too. Thanks for sharing!

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