Monday, October 25, 2010

Silencing Our Inner Editor

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INNER EDITOR. 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.

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, INNER 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 INNER 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 INNER 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 INNER 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 INNER 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. Edie, you of all people know the struggle I have with my inner editor. She just won't leave me alone! That's one reason I'm so impressed with your productivity. Guess I'm going to have to learn how to fire her--or at least put her on periodic lay-off!

  2. Have you been reading my journal?

  3. My inner editor works overtime, all the time. Being that I've signed up to take the challenge of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to have to silence her one way or another. I appreciate the tips. I'll be applying all of them throughout November!

  4. You beat me to the punch, girlfriend . . . but that's okay--I can quote you, right?


    Good stuff!

  5. I love this post. I have so much trouble with the inner critic - mine skips the editing and goes straight to criticizing. Your tips are great and I need them tatooed on the tops of my hands.

    One thing that works for me is to listen to music or to write soon after watchng a movie that gets me in touch with my feelings. Then I'm out of my head and writing from my heart.

    Thanks for addressing the hard topics of writing.