I’ve been blogging about the need for an editor and ways to find one. Most writers also have an inner editor. You know what I mean. It’s that little voice in our head that says…
- You can’t write
- That sucks
- No one will want this story
- Give up
(This list could go on and on. We writers can come up with an infinite number of negatives to tell ourselves. Or so it seems. All writers—even famous ones—deal with these negatives at some time or another.)
Most of the time we need to ignore these doubts. Occasionally, however, we need to listen to that voice in our head that keeps telling us something isn’t working.
You need to listen when you have…
Writer’s block. You can’t move forward. The words won’t come. The ideas aren’t flowing. I know when that’s happened to me, it’s usually because something I’ve written or plan on writing isn’t right for the characters. I’m asking them to act in a way that’s not consistent for the character and my subconscious (inner editor) is telling me I’m wrong.
A nagging doubt. Something just doesn’t feel right. I’ve turned manuscripts in (usually because of deadlines) where I’ve loved the story and characters, but something just hasn’t felt quite right. I can usually pinpoint the scene or section of the book that I’m not 100% happy with, but I don’t know why. In each case, my editor has asked for revisions, and sure enough, it’s the area that bothered me that bothers her. My inner editor was telling me I had a problem, and she was right.
How do you know when to listen to your inner editor or when to ignore it?
One way to silence the negatives is to get together with other writers. Talk about your doubts. It helps to know we share the same insecurities; that we all fear we’ll never pull a story together, that we’re really terrible writers and that’s now going to be exposed, and so on. Most of us suffer through sagging middles (in the story/not our bodies). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard multi-published, award-winning, best-selling authors say the book they’re working on is terrible and they might as well give up writing. But, of course, they don’t give up, and the book isn’t terrible. It may even be great.
If, however, your inner editor’s message is that something isn’t working, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you do need to listen, take a step back, and try to figure out why the scene or section doesn’t feel quite right. Go back to your initial concept for the story and the characters.
- Have you strayed from what you initially intended?
- Are you asking the characters to do something that wouldn’t be in character?
- Have you clearly defined the major conflict (or minor conflict) for the scene?
- Is the motivation for how the characters are acting appropriate for those characters?
- Have you developed the scene so it seems realistic to the reader?
Most articles I’ve read about dealing with one’s inner editor talk about waiting until you finish the first draft. Those articles, also, usually suggest writing the story straight through, beginning to end, before making any changes.
I think that’s a great idea. Problem is, I can’t write that way. If something doesn’t feel right, I have to go back and fix it.
Right now I’m having an argument with my inner editor. She’s telling me my opening chapters are wrong.
“But I like those scenes, they’ve got action, humor…good dialogue,” I argue.
Inner Editor comes back with, “They’re not right for your character. They need to go. Change them!”
Darn, I hate it when she’s right.