Saturday, February 9, 2013

Out, damn internal editors, out, I say!

Margo Dill, author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, spoke last week at the monthly meeting of Saturday Writers, a chapter of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. She explained the 6 + 1 traits of writing: voice, organization, sentence fluency, ideas, word choice, conventions + publication. Although she only spoke for a little more than an hour, she offered practical advice everyone could use immediately.

She covered each of these topics effectively, but I want to talk about one of them because of the responses she got from the audience. While discussing voice, she and several members of the audience commented on our internal editors. It’s a universal problem that can negatively impact anyone’s writing.

Margo said when she is stuck and her internal editor is stopping her from moving forward, she writes journal entries as the character she has created. This gives her insight into the character, and perhaps a way to write her character or plot out of a problem. This creative release may lead to becoming unstuck.

Audience  member Anthony Clark said he often writes emails to himself. He said there is something about writing an email that is less intimidating than opening an official Word document, so the pressure is off. Plus, he said he has never lost one of these emails.

I brought up a tip I read about turning off the computer monitor. Turning off the monitor prevents your internal editor from being able to read what you just wrote and criticize it. You just keep writing because there is no visual cue that can be judged and evaluated. 

Other writers mentioned rituals they use to get into the “writing state of mind” to quiet those tenacious internal editors. Lighting candles, arranging work spaces “just so,” and any other ritual like drinking coffee from a particular mug or wearing a lucky writing shirt may help prepare you to enter your “writing zone.”    

Last February I wrote about my inner critic. You can’t fight what you can’t see, so I imagined a person who does nothing but watch game shows and smoke cigarettes. My enemy has a name, and it’s Lucille. By naming her, and being able to “see” her in my head, I am less intimidated by her negativity. She’s a mess, and doesn’t want me to succeed because SHE doesn’t want to do the work to succeed. Why would I listen to her? That mental trick is effective, somehow.

Which mental tricks do you use to quiet your internal editor.

Write soon,


  1. Lucille...I love it! I find myself rereading too much. I like the idea of turning off the monitor. Then you simply write. I am so used to editing as I go, though. Maybe I will give it a try.

  2. I make so many typos (I'm not a good typist) so turning off the monitor might not be such a good idea for me. But I'll think about it.

    Mary, I love Barry Lane's idea of the three drafts. First there's the "down draft" where you just get it down. Then there's the "up draft" where you fix it up a little. Then there's the dental draft, where you look at every nook and cranny, poke around, and take care of every void/cavity.

    Also, I have used your "Lucille" character to help me out. Once in a workshop, we were to imagine a critic like her--they could be sitting in their PJs, smoking, their glasses on the end of their nose. We were then to write a letter to this critic, explaining where we were going with the piece of writing we were currently working on, describe the problems we were having, etc. I scoffed, but it really worked.

    As always, a thought-provoking post.

  3. Linda, you can borrow Lucille any time you like! And Sioux, I hadn't heard the of the "three draft" system before, but that really makes sense. I'm going to try that!

  4. This is a hard one for me, Mary. Writing in a notebook rather than typing on my laptop helps.
    Love the idea of naming your critical editor.

  5. Mary, I love this post! I'm a lot like Linda O. I cannot turn off my self-editing as I go. I've tried, but it just doesn't work for me. I believe it's because my writing "career" began as a guest columnist for the Journals. My piece had to be the best it could be, in the correct number of lines/words, and be submitted by deadline. And while doing those columns, I began submitting to Chicken Soup. Same scenario. I look at it this way: If I take a lot of time editing as I go, what's the difference between that and writing many different drafts until it's the best it can be? Same amount of time and work goes into it. Anyway...that works for me! Thanks for sharing this with us. I love the name Lucille, too! :)

  6. I'm all about whatever works for you!