Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Turn Off Your Internal Editor with These tips

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to share some insights I've gleaned about writing a first draft.

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INTERNAL EDITOR when they're working on an early draft of a manuscript. 

This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscript. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same person can short circuit our progress.

Today's post will give you the tips you need to turn off your internal editor.

First you should know there’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing your first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over. Here are some of the characteristics of each side.

Right Brain
  • Visual in process, focusing more on patterns and images.
  • Generally intuitive, led by feelings.
  • Is the epitome of multi-tasking, able to process ideas simultaneously.
  • Progresses from the big picture to the details.
  • Lacks organization, utilizes free association.
Left Brain
  • More verbal, needs to find specific words to express ideas.
  • Analytical, led by logic.
  • Takes things step by step, one idea at a time.
  • Organizes details first before moving to the big picture.
  • Very organized, utilizing lists and detailed plans.
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this information is good to know, but what if our left-brained, Internal Editor won’t go away? How do we make her be quiet? Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.

1. Don’t give in to temptation. Our Internal Editor gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type XXX and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. This goes for anything that demands you slow the creative process. At this point in your manuscript speed is your best friend.
2. Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the Internal Editor because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed she can even become an ally.
3. Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, but let the free association part of your right brain give you ideas to explore later with your more logical left side.
4. Don’t give in to fear. Many times our Internal Editor is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write what Anne Lamott calls the sh*%&# first draft is all we need to derail our Internal Editor.

All of these can help, but I’d like to know what tricks you use to keep that INNER EDITOR quiet.

Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. Thanks, Edie! Certainly explains why I enjoy writing my story the first time around...and then suffer the second, third, and fourth times around! Revising is grueling mental work. I have a tough internal editor, but thank heavens I can shut her down while writing the first draft. In fact, it's the only time I allow myself to spew from the heart!

  2. I guess my internal editor is super strong because while I don't get bogged down with my editing, I can't go on if I duplicate words, or thing something is wrong in my plot. The need to fix it before continuing is too strong and keeps me from moving on. I work with it though, instead of against it. I can still bang out my word goals because getting it right frees me to move on with the story.

  3. One thing I've employed for NaNo this year is giving her just enough to keep her satisfied by allowing myself a quick reread of something I've wriiten AFTER walking away from it. I've found it helpful to write 500-600 words at a time, three times a day. I don't allow myself to edit while I'm writing, but I will go back and read the previous written section, editing as I do a quick read. That's enough to keep her satisfied, but also quiets her when I'm writing. (She has to wait her turn!)

  4. These are great tips. I must have a really strong internal editor because I do tend to get bogged down. Now I have some tips on how to do better. Thanks for sharing.