Ready, Set, Write: Turning Off Your Internal Editor

Ready, set, write. It sounds incredibly easy to do. You sit down at your keyboard or a notebook, and get to work. But most writers hear the nagging voice of their internal editor from the first sentence. That voice says you’ve started at the wrong spot. Or it insists your opening sentence is boring. Maybe you should start with a different scene. Are you sure that’s the correct point of view? Your internal editor pokes and whines and insinuates as you write, growing louder with every paragraph. It makes you doubt yourself, and slows your progress.


Silencing Your Internal Editor

Writers everywhere have their own methods for silencing the nagging voice in their heads. The one that tells them they’re doing it all wrong. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working on your first draft. Post your favorites over your desk or tape them to the edge of your monitor. Maybe create a mantra or two.

  • It’s just a shitty first draft. No one writes a beautiful or perfect first draft. It’s supposed to be a brain dump. Plenty of time to make it pretty when you start to revise.
  • I’m figuring out who the characters are. First drafts help you flesh out your protagonist and the rest of your cast. Get to know them, determine what they want, and how they’re likely to behave while getting it.
  • Only reread the previous day’s output. When you sit down to write, don’t allow yourself to read anything older than what you wrote in your previous session. Out of sight, out of mind. And again, you have plenty of time to revise once you’re done with draft #1.
  • I don’t have to know everything yet. First drafts are for fleshing out the plot just as much as the characters. If you don’t know what happens next, skip ahead to where you do have an idea. Put brackets and come back later to fill in the details.
  • Everything is relative. Remember that the things you write start to build on each other. You may reach a juncture at page 50 or 150 or 250 that gives you wonderful ideas for shoring up earlier scenes. Sometimes you need to build the castle before the foundation.
  • You cannot edit a blank page. There’s no point in trying to perfect what you haven’t written. Write first, edit later. By this I mean the entire book. Editing a single sentence in a void is almost as bad as trying to write one perfect sentence from the start.

If your internal editor becomes particularly persistent, try some other ways of distracting yourself. Put on instrumental music to fill your head with some other sound. Scroll down the page so your screen is blank (or turn to the next page in your notebook), then take a short break to walk around; when you come back, start writing without looking at what you’d been picking over before you left. Change the font color of the last section to white so it’s invisible, then keep writing. Go for a run or hit the gym to get your blood flowing — you’ll feel more creatively inspired.

Every writer must face their internal editor, but only you can determine how much power you’ll give to your nagging voice. Whether you’re piling up words for NaNoWriMo or fighting to meet a contract deadline, there will be days when reaching your writing goal feels impossible. Remember that the internal editor is you — you at your most critical and insecure. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your efforts, and the only way to reach the end is to keep pushing through. Good luck, and happy writing.