Can’t write your story because of that voice inside your head telling you to stop and fix your work? Here’s why your inner editor is holding you back—and what you can do about it.
For many years, I didn’t take part in the writing challenge of getting a 50K-word manuscript down on paper because my schedule was too busy to give it the due diligence the competition deserved. So I took on another writing project that I knew I could handle during that 30-day window.
But every year, regardless of schedule, I faced the same hesitations. Can I really write 50,000 words in one month? What if I get stuck? What’s the point of writing so many words that will need some serious editing TLC?
These weren’t my thoughts. This was my inner editor talking.
Who Is Your Inner Editor?
If you’re a writer, chances are you have an inner editor. You have the compulsion to stop what you’re writing to search the thesaurus for a better word, to fix that transitional sentence, to brainstorm better descriptions for your characters or scene.
“What’s a better word for ‘ran’?”
“What if we combined these two sentences?”
“What does the character really look like during this moment?”
In short, your inner editor is your compulsive need to fix, rework, or tidy up the words that you’ve already written for the story while you’re trying to write new words.
Your inner editor should not get mixed up with your inner critic. But let’s save that discussion for another blog post.
What Your Inner Editor is Doing to Your Writing
Your inner editor focuses on what you can change to the sentence you just wrote or puzzles over the errors in the last chapter.
Notice how I’m not speaking in future tense?
Your inner editor fixates on what has already been created. Your inner editor wants you to stop what you’re doing to fix it.
And that’s that problem. Your inner editor wants you to stop writing.
This is frustrating when you have made time to write, but you spend more time editing. By the end of your writing session, you only have a page or two written down—if that.
No, you are not conspiring against yourself to not write. You are simply engaging in a cyclical pattern that you don’t know how to end.
Don’t worry. There is a way out.
Here’s How to Put Your Inner Editor to Better Use
Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, illustrates a funny solution to the inner editor issue in his book No Plot? No Problem!
He suggests that you buy a one-way train ticket and send your inner editor on a well-needed vacation. If your inner editor writes, don’t write back. If your inner editor calls, don’t pick up. If your inner editor texts, block the number.
Then, when all the words are messily on the paper, send them back on the next flight back home.
I found this amusing and to be a good idea before National Novel Writing Month. But after completing the writing challenge, I think there’s a better solution.
See, your inner editor brings a lot of good to the table. That you are spotting ways to improve your work in real time shows just how developed you are as a creative writer in shaping a captivating story.
My solution? Give your inner editor a task while you’re writing.
Let your inner editor take notes as you go. Don’t like that sentence? Note it. Don’t like that section of dialogue? Note it. Think there’s a better way to connect the two dots during that scene? Note it.
This solves a lot of problems. You can still write new words. Your inner editor is busy with a well-loved task and is being heard, not silenced. And, when the first draft is all done, you have the words and the notes on how to rework your writing.
Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
Don’t send your inner editor away. Let them sit nearby. Just not at the writing table.
What is your inner editor doing to your writing? How do you solve the situation? Share your experiences below.