Tuning Out the Editor

This is one of my earliest posts, but as I am in the process of starting a massive revision project, I thought it might be a good one to revisit.  I hope you enjoy it, too –

I’m certain there are more than a few of us who, as we write, have an internal commentary that accompanies our efforts.  Mine sounds something like this:  “Oh, you didn’t just write that.  That totally sucks, you need to take it out.  You are really going to let people read that?  Okay, maybe that part is alright, but this thing over here – well – you really can’t believe that’s going to work now, can you?”  Etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Most writers will admit to having this internal editor that tries to interrupt their work.  It’s sort of the opposite of having a muse to help guide your work.  The editor tells you all the negative things about what you’re doing, and tries to tell you that you can’t be successful.  Somehow, though, we keep going even without the editor’s approval.  We sally forth and allow the creative process to unfold through our brains, to our fingers, through the keyboard, to the computer.  Somehow, we shut that voice down and move forward.

At least, most of the time that’s how it works.  Unfortunately there are days where the editor (who in my case sounds just like my high school English teacher, Ms. Diamond) convinces me.  I work for hours, striving to fine-tune my work and produce quality prose, only to have the editor say something about how weak my style is, or how I’ve already been successful and I should just be grateful for that.  And for whatever reasons, I give in.  I believe what she tells me, and I give. It’s really discouraging. 

But I am learning to tune her out.  I’m far better at it now than I used to be, and I get stronger all the time.  I start by rereading something I wrote a day or two back.  I look for the strengths, I find things I think are solid and well-crafted.  And before the editor has a chance to start in on me, I immerse myself fully in the work at hand.  When I hear her try to interrupt, I tell her “I’m busy,” or “I’ll talk with you later.”  Then I plow ahead. 

I know that sometimes what I’m writing isn’t as solid or well-crafted as I want, but that’s what the revision process is for.  The first draft is about recording basic ideas.  As Natalie Goldberg states in her classic work Writing Down the Bones, “You have permission to write shitty first drafts.”  And thank the heavens for that!  Without a rotten first draft, there’d be no work to do in revision, and during revision is where I do some of my best work.  It’s also where that editor comes in really handy.  When she suggests that something isn’t up to snuff, I ask her to give me advice on changing it.  Together, we work through the piece until we are both satisfied.  Okay, until I’m satisfied enough to tell her to mind her own business again.

Giving yourself the permission to create something that isn’t perfect the first time out is an important step toward growing as a writer, and realistically, as a person.  Perfectionism is the death of the creative process.  Tell the editor to shut up and mind her business until you need her (or him, as the case may be).  Give yourself permission to just create without worrying about judging it.  Then sally forth, and give it your all.  Make the editor work for you.

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