The Art of Mirriam Neal

//stop killing your friend

The dreaded Inner Editor. Everyone has one – the Thing perching on our shoulders, looking down and watching every sentence we write, every paragraph, with critical scrutiny. I remember when I first came across the phrase ‘kill your inner editor,’ it felt like the key to freedom. Granted, they’re not easy to kill and the best most of us can do is ignore them, but I found I could write so much faster when I paid no attention to him. It was my first NaNoWriMo, and I wrote the required 50,000 words with ease.

And it was a wreck.

The novel had no plot structure, no direction, no character depth, nothing. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever put on paper – and while I completed my first National Novel Writing Month¬†with enough verve to repeat the cycle the next year, I remember skimming over the completed novel a few weeks later and wanting to burn the thing to ashes. It was awful.

I wasn’t sure what I’d done. I knew I was a novice writer, sure, but I was capable of producing more than….this, right? No author wants to be embarrassed by what they’ve written, but in December of 2009, I looked back at what I’d written in November and I was more than embarrassed – I was mortified. I had won NaNo, and failed utterly.

Was I a little hard on myself? Probably. I’d only been into this writing business for a couple years, after all, and I had only a vague idea of what I was doing. But in that moment, I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. I’d taken Chris Baty’s mantra of ‘no plot, no problem!’ and written whatever came to mind, direction be hanged. I had ignored my inner editor and I had written with speed I wasn’t aware I possessed.

It took me a few more years to realize the source of my problem. My inner editor was still bound and gagged in the corner, eyeing me with cynicism. Everything I read had told me the inner editor was the devil’s first cousin, out to pillage, plunder, and raze my writing to the ground. My inner editor was a hindrance. He got in the way.

Or so everyone said. Imagine my surprise when I removed his gag, untied him, and let him back on my shoulder. I began to pay attention to what I wrote. I began to weigh it evenly, to pass my own judgment, to groan and backspace the last sentence because it was sloppy and didn’t fit. The more I listened to my inner editor, the more I came to realize he was anything but a hindrance – he was, in fact, key to this whole writing thing.

He’s the one who taps my shoulder and says, ‘That will create a plot hole,’ or ‘That sounds out of character,’ or ‘You don’t need that storyline here.’

I still see ‘kill your inner editor’ thrown around by authors everywhere, and I’m not sure how they do it. I’m not sure how they write anything worth reading if they’re ignoring the single most important authorial tool I’ve ever had. Personally, I think the idea of the Inner Editor as Enemy is a dangerous one, and detrimental to writers everywhere – especially fledgling writers just spreading their wings.

It encourages a kind of cavalier, devil-may-care attitude that leads to sloppy, structure-less, shallow writing; and I don’t say this in an accusatory manner. I had my inner editor tied up for years, believing I didn’t need him. Now I have befriended him, and he hovers over my shoulder, clutching a pearl (I fancy he’s a blue lung dragon) and judging my writing, and I’m grateful for it.

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Without him, I might still be writing sentences like,

*”She saw Dex, typing at his usual 120 words per minute, his eyes glued to three different screens in front of him.”

*this is a bona-fide sentence from a real novel I wrote years ago. I don’t know how anyone can have their eyes glued simultaneously to three different screens, but apparently it’s possible. I need to find the source of his power.

Your inner editor is not your enemy. Your inner editor is a vital ally, but he won’t befriend you until you accept him for what he is. He is the difference between writing and good writing.

It’s kind of a big difference.

 

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