Sunday, 8 November 2015

Silencing your inner editor

No guarantee of quality...
You hear a lot about the inner editor these days. 

For those of you who don’t know, your inner editor is the voice in a writer’s head — a kind of literary conscience, if you like — that won’t let you get away with things that are wrong. (Yes; I know some people have a more highly-developed inner editor than others.) Mine is a pain. Sometimes when I’m writing I hear her whispering. Is there something missing there. Or: Do you think that’s too much backstory too soon? Sometimes she gets very shirty and raps my knuckles. Cliche alert! Or: Repetition! Or (on very bad days): Stop right there!

Your inner editor fulfils a very valuable function in keeping you on the rails but she (or he) isn’t always your best friend. Sometimes she can be persistent, niggly and downright off-putting. Nothing’s ever good enough for her. That’s when she can be your worst enemy. But there are ways to deal with her.

It’s National Novel Writing Month right now, when writers all over the world challenge themselves to write a draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words during November. This is a lot, if you’re writing with the IE sitting on your shoulder like an angel with a fixation on perfection. 

NaNoWriMo is one of the best ways of shutting her up. Its emphasis on numbers is perfect for the target-driven (like me). You can jump straight in and get on with the story. If you come to a difficult scene you can skip it, or skimp it, or just make notes. If you suddenly realise you need a new character who should have been introduced earlier, you just write them in and worry about how to introduce them later. Ditto the character you’ve already introduced but no longer need. Don’t bother with them any more. Keep writing and worry about them later. 

The important thing is to get to the end, and quickly. To do that, you can’t afford to listen to the inner editor, because you don’t have time. Which is hard, because she does know what’s right. T

The struggle I had to subdue mine was long and deadly, so much so that you won’t see her again until the police come to dig up the patio. 

I love NaNo, purely because to gives me permission to be bad (in writing terms, of course). I’ve made all the mistakes she nags me about and some she wouldn’t dream I’d ever make. My characters appear in impossible places given where they were five minutes before. They scream, they cry, they shout, they make rash decisions. They change their hair and eye colours and are painfully inconsistent in their thinking and their speech. My story, riddled with factual inaccuracies, starts in the wrong place, sags in the middle and comes to a shuddering and abrupt end.

But it’s done. And now I need to sort the plot. And the characters. And the stylistic howlers. And the inconsistencies… Pity I did away with the only one who could help me. 

Wanted, one inner editor. Must have at least nine lives.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jennifer. I've only once completed NaNo and I think it's a brilliant idea for getting on with the writing - exactly what I need. However, I didn't eve get started this year but good luck with yours, not that you need it!