After the Manuscript: Making Up with My Inner Editor 3


Hey, look, a completed manuscript! It’s my third, it’s 65,000 words long, and… it’s dead to me.

manuscript-spread

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.


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.


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3 thoughts on “After the Manuscript: Making Up with My Inner Editor

  • Cristina R. Guarino

    Thanks so much for the link/mention, David! So happy to know you found our advice useful!

    I had personally gotten this idea from an episode of the podcast Writing Excuses called “The Internal Heckler Vs. The Internal Editor” (http://www.writingexcuses.com/2013/10/20/writing-excuses-8-42-the-internal-heckler-vs-the-internal-editor/). I think they make an excellent point that the voice that simply screams “this sucks!” and the voice that actually has constructive feedback are two totally different things. The former should be disregarded, but the latter shouldn’t be. On top of that, there’s a difference between taking note of a problem area or possible improvement to come back to later, so that you can fully focus on your writing flow in the moment, and completely tossing it aside to be forgotten in the process.

    An excellent post; really insightful. Thanks again for the mention (and the great read)!

    • David Shank Post author

      Thanks a ton for checking this out, Cristina, and even more for the full story on that post 🙂 I’ve updated the post to give you more direct credit because “this blogger” kinda sounded a bit impersonal, you know?

      Again, thanks for the response. I’m just getting used to this social networking thing!

      • Cristina R. Guarino

        Oh that’s great, thanks so much!

        Many writers agree the #1 social media platform for authors is Twitter. I’ll follow you from my own personal account and from The Sprint Shack as well–you should come check us out and participate in some writing events/wordsprints with us! 🙂 The sense of community/encouragement on Twitter is really fantastic.