Hey, look, a completed manuscript! It’s my third, it’s 65,000 words long, and… it’s dead to me.
If you’re a writer with an Internet connection, you’ve likely heard of the phrase “Inner Editor.” It’s the little voice inside your head that tells you, “No, that sentence sucks. Try it again,” or “Isn’t there a better word for this?” or a multitude of other things that can slow down the writing process.
Many people, especially around the time of NaNoWriMo, like to “turn off” their Inner Editors. They shut him up, and some will even suggest drawing your Inner Editor and putting tape over his mouth (literally). Even I’ve succumbed to the taking and passing on of this wisdom.
But why do we do this? Because NaNoWriMo is a fast-paced thrill ride of words and continuity errors that doesn’t need an Inner Editor in the way. At least, that’s the theory, and it’s even supported by the NaNoWriMo website. Your Inner Editor will just slow you down, when NaNoWriMo is meant as an escape from your “normal” writing practices. It’s a time to do something different from what you would usually do, and just enjoy the breakneck pace of unimpeded creativity.
That’s all well and good, until it gets out of hand.
I attempted NaNoWriMo in November 2013. It wasn’t my first time, but it was my most motivated attempt. I got to about 20,000 words, if I remember correctly, and then I found myself having difficulties getting into it. This was partly due to a vacation for which I did not account for days off, but that’s getting away from the point.
I gave up that story, but picked it up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April 2014. I had gotten back into writing more in March, picking up where I left off on an old story I had lying around, and thought that finishing my NaNo project would be a breeze. Instead, I steadily lost interest until I quit it.
But I did gain one great thing from that experience: I realized how much I could get done if I didn’t worry about having to edit right away. The editing process comes after the writing process, right? So I applied this idea to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy piece I was working on. It already had 12,000 words in it and I had tons of outlining notes for it, so it should go pretty quickly.
I finished it in about a month and a half. I was pleased with the overall result. It wasn’t terrible, at least. I went through the editing process thinking, “Okay, here is where I can make it perfect.”
I now have a completely marked-up manuscript, and yet I have not even begun to change things in the original document. I started to have doubts about what I’d written, and so I shared it with some close friends. They like it, but they did seem to echo my concerns. Chiefly, I think this story has my worst characterization to date.
It really got me to examine myself more closely as a writer, but I think that’s for a later post. I want to look specifically at what I believe spelled my own doom: I turned off my Inner Editor. I wrote without any concern for errors. Write now, edit later was my mantra. It got the job done, and I thought that was good enough. But I really, really, don’t want to make the changes necessary to this novel. It needs a complete rewrite; that’s my verdict.
But this is also a good thing. I now think I know just how much I need to plan my novels, and I also know that just finishing it is not the best plan for writing quality work, no matter how awesome I may think I am at writing.
Moral of the story, ignoring your Inner Editor is for NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo alone. Getting into the habit of ignoring that helpful voice does way more harm than good, though your mileage may vary. Personally, I think Cristina R. Guarino of The Sprint Shack puts it best, saying “it’s best to think of this challenge as a time to shelve, rather than silence, that voice.”
So, I may return to this story in the way future, but it will come with a lot more planning, and my Inner Editor will be in the passenger seat, presumably still rubbing the raw mark left behind by the duct tape.