Is Your Inner Editor a Voice of Discouragement? Learn How to Harness It

The infernal internal editor is the shoulder devil common to all writers. You sit down to write a simple paragraph of description, a few lines of dialogue, a scene transition—and before your finger has even hit the first period key, your inner editor is screaming in your ear.

It’s not good enough! Nobody talks that way! You really think any self-respecting reader is going to wade through a description like that? This is insanely boring: pardon me if I start to snore.

Does Your Inner Editor Make You Feel This Bad?

Nobody likes a tongue-lashing, even from invisible, imaginary anti-muses. So when Mr. Inner Editor starts warming up, what do you do? You tense. Your fingers freeze in crooked positions above the keyboard. You start chewing your lips, your eyes flicking back across the meager handful of words you were able to squeeze out before Mr. Editor started his harangue.

Your heart clutches a little and your breath sticks halfway up your throat, as you realize he’s right. Mr. Editor is right. This paragraph does stink. This dialogue is hokey. This description is too long. No wonder he’s snoring!

From there it’s an easy leap to convincing yourself that since your description, dialogue, and scene transitions stink, then, naturally, you must stink as a writer. Doubts assail you about your ability to write anything that will please your inner editor. Doubt avalanches into fear—and you’re crippled by panic.

You Can’t Beat Your Inner Editor–So Join Him

It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve transformed the inner editor into a monster of epic proportions, but only because we haven’t learned to utilize him. Your editor’s not a fiend; he’s a friend. In fact, he’s the best friend—and the best tool—a writer can have.

But only if you embrace him.

A writer’s confidence comes and goes. One minute you’re brilliant, the next you’re a hack. But confidence isn’t what makes a writer. (If it was, we’d all be sunk.) What transforms a random someone-typing-a-story into an author is sheer determination.

You know your writing will always have room for improvement. But don’t take that as a putdown. Take it as a challenge!

How Use Your Inner Editor Instead of Letting It Abuse You

Embrace Mr. Editor, not as a cruel taskmaster who will never be satisfied, but as a tough-love coach who refuses to let you settle for less than you’re capable of.

The trick to embracing the inner editor is to turn his diatribes into lessons for improvement. I’m thankful for my inner editor. I’m pleased he’s usually right. I appreciate that I have this voice in my head telling me how to be better, never letting me settle for status quo.

Is it tough sometimes? Do I occasionally hate him? Does he ever make me want to stomp away from the keyboard with the certainty that quitting now would be far easier? You betcha.

But I don’t quit, and I don’t let myself hate him for long. I love my infernal internal editor for the simple reason that he makes me better. And, if you learn to embrace him, then so will yours!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you handle criticism from your inner editor? Tell me in the comments!

Is Your Inner Editor a Voice of Discouragement? Learn How to Harness It

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Confidence – and the lack of it -is one of the loneliest things about writing. Nicely tackled, Katie!

  2. Or in other words — Keep your friends close…and your enemies closer.

    I’ve read several times that it’s best to suppress your internal editor during a first draft, just let the material pour out. Do you agree K.M.?

  3. I think it depends on your process. Some people polish each paragraph as they go, ensuring that a first draft is also the final draft in the process.

    Of course, that method doesn’t work for me. I don’t suppress my inner editor during a first draft (unless it’s NaNoWriMo), but I do focus more on getting the words onto the page than I do on making sure the prose is perfect. I figure I have plenty of time in editing and rewriting to get it perfect. (I actually plan, when I have an idea and enter it into my database, that I will edit a piece three times, with the third edit being the final draft. Doesn’t always work out that way – sometimes things need more work, sometimes they need less – but it’s a good average.)

  4. @dirtywhitecandy: I find it ironic that art in all its forms is one of the most powerful products of the human minds, and yet it’s rarely produced without fear and suffering. Or perhaps not so ironic at all!

    @DL: I never suppress my internal editor. Listening to him inevitably makes my first draft better. But that slow, thoughtful process of editing as you go doesn’t work for all writers. Some people work best if they can just shut their editor up, get their first draft on paper as fast as they can, and then go back and edit critically. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for you.

  5. @Janalou: Definitely agree about everyone having his own rhythm. My goal is make everything as perfect as possible at every stage. It doesn’t end up perfect, of course, but since that’s my goal it’s much closer to perfect than it would have been otherwise.

  6. Great post, K.M.! 🙂 I’m slowly learning to embrace my internal editor instead of hating or ignoring him. However, during the first draft of a book, I’ve found that if I listen to that editor inside me, and edit while I go, it slows me down and I end up with a lot of frustration and an unfinished draft.

    So during a first draft, I mostly ignore my internal editor, in order to press on. But during edits, it’s invaluable! 🙂

  7. Most people seem to do better if they push throuh the first draft as quickly as possible. Finishing the manuscript is the first goal, so do whatever you have to do to get there!

  8. Good to read this. I was beginning to think I was the only person who spends 5 minutes typing an email and 30 minutes editing it. And yes, I even re-read this comment at least 3 times before posting. 🙂

  9. I definitely think we each have our own rhythm. I tend to edit to a certain extent as I plug through the first draft. But I save the major editing until I’ve gotten everything out of my head. I may pound out a scene or a full chapter, then go back and edit before moving on. Sometimes, it just depends on my mood.

    I love what you said about “sheer determination” being the difference between “someone typing a story” and an “author.” Some writers think it’s just determination to find an agent or a publisher, though. But as you pointed out, it’s really determination to improve our craft and learn, learn, learn!

  10. I had to suppress my inner editor when learning to finish drafts. Now that I have the confidence of finishing several and realize I *can* get to “The End”, I’m slowly starting to use my inner editor again through the first draft, only shutting him up when I get to a part I just have to push through to finish. My first drafts are certainly improving because of it, and it hasn’t slowed me down too much yet.

    Mired in revisions as I am at the moment, I’m definitely motivated to learn how to use my inner editor more in the first draft. It would make revisions a little less taxing.

  11. @Brock: Oh, no, you’re not the only one! My editor was grumbling at me all through the writing of this post. :p

    @Kat: Thomas Edison’s oft-quoted saw about “99% perspiration” is incredibly true. We can’t do anything about the amount of talent we’re given, but we *can* decide what we do with the talent we have!

    @Jamie: Experience – particularly the assurance that I *have* been here before and I *have* conquered this mountain before – and I *can* do it again – is something that only comes with time and completed manuscripts. In the early stages of a career, finishing a story is the most important thing. Later on, once we have those completions under our belts, we usually feel we have more wiggle room to take time and pains with that first draft.

  12. I love this post, K.M. I am going to bookmark it AND print a copy for my writing folder. Great stuff! Thanks. 🙂

  13. So glad you found the post re-readable!

  14. When I’m writing, I typically tell my internal editor to shut up–sometimes much more strongly than that if he’s being a pest. What I hate, though, is if I shift from one project where I’m editing, then to one I’m writing. I find it’s harder to tell that editor to shut up then.

    BTW, my editor is ON now, and it’s telling me there’s a typo on the first line in the 5th paragraph. 😉

  15. That’s interesting that you’re editor reacts differently when writing or editing. I don’t know that mine does. If anything, I think it’s more “on” when I’m writing. My gut instinct is most accurate then.

  16. I’m learning to listen to my internal editor. He’s usually right. Maybe I need to name him. 😉

  17. This is a great reminder to use that internal editor in a positive way. Very encouraging!!

  18. @Lorna: Once you name him, you start getting attached to him. 😉

    @Paul: I think writers have a tendency to react very negatively to the scary parts of writing (and understandably so), but fear turned on its head is a powerful thing. We can utilize that to our benefit.

  19. Lorna, maybe if you made him a her and named her after your middle name. But then, as Katie said, you’d probably get too attached to him or her.

    It’s ironic that you should call the inner editor your “friend” when you lock him or her in the closet every November. Is that any way to treat a friend?

    ~ VT

  20. He doesn’t get locked in the closet. He stays out on my shoulder where I can listen to him. 🙂

  21. I can generally get through a thought before my editor starts sniping my writing. Then I tweak and tweak each word to within an inch of its life. Sometimes I just go with the flaws and put it out there in the hopes it will spark a new thought through fresh eyes.

    I would suppose this is why the editing phase of writing is longer than the writing phase, at least when you’re first learning your way.

    Good to know our editors are actually on our sides and not out to sabotage us. =)

  22. Confidence and determination… I need to write with these! Thanks for this reminder to tell my editor where to go the next time she rears her ugly head!

  23. @Anne: Interesting point on why the editing phase is longer. Perfection is a lot more difficult than creation!

    @Kristen: With determination comes confidence I think – but not necessarily the other way around.

  24. I think you must’ve crawled inside my head over the weekend and said everything I was thinking.

    This post is brilliant. Thanks so much!

  25. Greats minds think alike and all that! 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

  26. Great post – I think mine drives me crazy, but he’s also the one that whips me into shape when I get down – I guess you have to take the good with the bad ;o)

  27. Yes, exactly. Tough love doesn’t work without the “tough” part!

  28. My internal editor has a female voice. A very catty female voice.

    Yes, it’s determination that makes one come back to writing over and over again.

    Thanks for this reminder.

  29. I think I envision my inner editor as a professor type – horn-rimmed glass pushed up on his nose, always peering over my shoulder and pointing.

  30. I’m learning to listen to my internal editor more, particularly at the beginning of a book. If I consistently feel something is off, I am trying to listen to my instincts and determine why.

  31. My editor screams especially loud at the beginning of a book. Drives me crazy – but he’s inevitably right!

  32. I like how you take the common wisdom and turn it on its head. So many times, we writers are told to ignore our internal editors until we have the first draft on paper. But, you’re right. The internal editor is our friend. We should listen and change, where appropriate. Always keeping in mind the balance between improving and “paralysis of analysis.”

  33. I try hard to turn him off when I write the first draft but he sits there too, pointing things out. So I usually give in and feel better despite my previous goals:)

  34. @Denise: The “paralysis of analysis” – I like that! Perfectionism is the bane and the blessing of any artist. We just have to learn to find that sweet spot of “good enough.”

    @Terri: I know I feel miserable if I *don’t* listen to him. My writing flows much better if I fix problems as I go along.

  35. Wow, I needed that post! I’ve been grappling desperately with my inner editor as of late, struggling with whether or not to ignore him or embrace him. A great tip I’ve found: When I’m writing and I’m on a role, but my inner editor starts nagging about what I’ve just written, I just type in italics: FIX, so that I can keep on writing, and when I return, I can go back over things with my dear inner editor. Because if I listened to him ALL of the time- I’d never finish my books!

  36. I’ve heard of others doing that, and I think it’s a brilliant idea. So far, my OCD-ness has prevented me from making it work for myself! :p

  37. What would the world be like without editors??? From reading your books, it’s clear that you are a wonderful editor. 🙂

  38. Thanks very much. 🙂

  39. I so needed to hear this today!!

    Corra

    from the desk of a writer

  40. Then I’m glad you were able to stop by!

  41. A handmade trackback since I can’t figure out how to do it the official way. 🙂 I mentioned this article at my blog in a january in review post. Cheers! – Corra McFeydon

  42. I just have to listen to him. He just doesn’t shut up. But at the end of the day, it makes an easier second draft for me. With less rubbish to clean up

  43. I am doubly cursed, since I am an editor by profession. And a feisty one at that. And I have a crippling giant mini-me on my shoulder who learnt from the best.

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