Those Evil Inner Editors

When you’re writing your first draft, sometimes you get a voice in your head saying something like, “You know that sentence you just wrote? Why don’t you tweak it a little? It could use a few different words.” Or, “You might want to check that paragraph on page 5. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a period at the end of it.” Or, “This story is awful. Tear it up, get some new ideas, and go back to page 1.”

That voice is evil. That voice is your inner editor. But strangely enough, the inner editor is only evil when you’re writing your first draft. It’s when you’re ready to finally polish and edit and revise that the inner editor can become an asset instead of a liability.

The most important thing about a first draft is to get it down on paper or on the screen (and hopefully saved in a million different places) and finish it. The inner editor will prevent you from finishing. He’ll hold you back and tell you all the tiny places where you might have messed up. It’s difficult to ignore the inner editor, especially if you happen to be a perfectionist. But in order to finish your first draft, you have to lock the inner editor up and throw away the key.

You might make excuses. “It’ll be OK if I just fix this comma here, or go back and describe this character just a little bit more.” Or, “All I’m going to do is rearrange a sentence.” One edit can turn into a landslide, and soon enough, you’ll see huge problems with your story.

But every first draft has huge problems. Every single first draft. You can’t avoid problems. Tearing up the paper and starting again will not help, because you’ll only start another draft with its own huge problems.

So just write. Ignore the inner editor telling you to go back and make corrections, however small they may be. Don’t do it. You are not aiming for perfection at this point, and aiming for perfection is futile. You are aiming to finish.

When your first draft is complete, you can let the inner editor out again. He will be chastened and glad to assist you in ripping apart all your terrible sentences, filling your plot holes, fixing your inconsistencies, etc.

And if you don’t think you have an inner editor, believe me. You do. Just wait until you’re halfway through your first draft and you’re at a complete loss for what happens next. Your inner editor will whisper in your ear, tell you to start all over again, because you could write something so much better. Tell that evil editor to shut up, and keep on writing. Write anything. Just don’t look back.

6 thoughts on “Those Evil Inner Editors

  1. So that’s what you call it! My inner editor is a source of much frustration, turning a perfectionist into a procrastinator. Nice to know it has a name, now to fight against it…

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  2. I agree, and particularly with the point about not ripping it up and starting over because you’ll just end up with a different, but equally flawed first draft. I have a carton in my closet full of unfinished first drafts. Some are a few paragraphs and some are several pages or longer, and but they are all flawed and they are all incomplete.

    The breakthrough for me was serial publication, since it’s a lot harder to bail when you’ve already published the first chapter. 🙂

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  3. Good points, Maggie. The problem with some writers is that they lock up their inner editors, hide the key, and forget where they put it. 😆

    Best of luck with NaNo!

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  4. I just posted about a similar thing but you’ve put it a lot more elegantly! It’s probably one of the major things I’ve learned over the past year – just write! Once you get that in your head the first draft can be quite liberating.

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