Your Inner Editor

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.


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16 Responses to Your Inner Editor

  1. Sometimes I hate my inner editor too LOL!
    Great post
    Good luck and God’s blessings

  2. Loralee Lillibridge says:

    Great post, Maris. Thanks for sharing. You brought up several excellent ways to deal with the inner edior who lurks within *every serious writer. (*just my .02)

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you, Loralee. Thank goodness for writers’ groups, and for the writers who belong to those groups, for giving us the support we all need.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    We also have an inner editor in our lives and I hate that negative mix tape. 🙂 Wonderful post! Sometimes our heart knows what we need to do!

  4. Donnell Bell says:

    Hi, Maris. Great post. I particularly related to I’ve strayed from my original idea. But I’ve also moved, relocating out of state, unpacked, and have been taking care of my mom and had a new grandbaby. People write through all these things all the time, and I admire them. I just seemed to throw up my hands and give up on this story, although I’ve been told it’s good. I’m also stretching my creativity in this story. I’m resisting and I have no idea why.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Donnell, maybe the story isn’t quite ready, especially if you’re stretching your creativity. This one I’m working on isn’t anything earth shaking, but I’m discovering more layers to it, aspects of the story I hadn’t thought of originally. I think I need to go slowly with this one.

  5. Hi Maris,

    Like you, I have an inner editor that at times makes me doubt what I’ve written and forces me to go back, rewrite, do it better. Being insecure about our work has its benefits.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Jacqueline. Our doubts make us strive to make the stories better. At least that’s how it works for me. I’m sure there are some writers who don’t go through that process…but I haven’t met any, yet.

  6. Vanessa Kier says:

    I should have listened to the voice that told me the heroine wasn’t right for the hero. I forced the story and now that it’s back from the editor I’m starting over from scratch. 🙁

    • Maris Soule says:

      That’s so frustrating. My sympathies, Vanessa. I know from experience that it’s difficult to let go of an idea, even if your inner editor is telling it’s not working. I loved the opening I had for my wip. It’s been difficult to admit it’s not right for my character.

  7. Carole Price says:

    Great post. I may like what I wrote even though it doesn’t feel right. I try to move on but that doesn’t work. I want it fixed right then if it’s wrong for my character. This can take time.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I’m with you, Carole, which is why I’m not a fast writer. Actually, I’m probably a slow learner. It takes me a while to figure out why something doesn’t feel right.

  8. Brenda Hill says:

    My inner editor never shuts up, even when I try to ignore her. She judges and comments on everything I write, no matter how short or long. It’s maddening!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thank you for your comment, Brenda. It made me laugh because you’re right, we writers are a little crazy. I know I’m often (mentally or verbally) telling my inner editor to shut up. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets angry with that voice in my head.