The new year has begun and if you are like most people, then you might have set a few New Year’s Resolutions. One of those resolutions might be to finally sit down and write that novel or short story that has been sitting in the back of your mind for a while now. So, you’ve finally sat down to get started and are now struggling to write that first sentence.
The problem is, you couldn’t figure out the perfect way to start the story. Should you start with dialogue, a description of the scene, or some inner monologue from your main character? You can’t decide. You’ve heard someone complain about each kind and so now you’re stuck staring at a flashing cursor on a relatively blank page. Your mind won’t let you proceed unless you can write the perfect sentence that everyone will love. Now you aren’t making any progress.
This is your inner editor speaking, and it is screwing you over before you’ve even truly begun.
So What’s the Problem?
Your inner editor comes about from a lot of editing of previous work. The more you write, the better you become and you gain a better understanding of the craft. You learn what works and what doesn’t. This is helpful for you because it allows you to create a better piece of writing, however, it can also be very detrimental.
As you learn what works and what doesn’t, you begin to prevent yourself from writing anything you consider bad. This doesn’t sound horrible until you’re stuck in a situation like the one I mentioned earlier. You’re sitting at your computer trying to write but can’t think of anything good and are stuck staring at the unmoving cursor. All because your inner editor won’t let you write anything less than perfect.
This is a problem because the first draft of any project isn’t supposed to be perfect, it is just supposed to get your ideas down on the page, or computer screen. You shouldn’t start editing a piece until you’ve got a completed first draft.
It’s Time to Shut Up
When you are starting a new project, you need to learn to shut up your inner editor. This task is simultaneously easy and a real pain in the backside.
Getting that little editing voice in your head to shut up can be a bit challenging, but it is also pretty easy too. Paradoxical, right? The only way that voice is going to be quiet is if you ignore it. After all, no one wants to talk if they are being ignored and so eventually that voice of yours stops talking altogether.
You just ignore the voice in your head and write whatever the heck you want to. Once you have finished your first draft, you can come back, read through the work, and actually listen to the voice. Only once the first draft has been finished should you give in and listen to that voice. Editing before the first draft is completed just slows the whole process down.
Think of a story like a map that takes you from point A to point B. How can you properly edit a story’s route between these two points if you don’t know where point B even is or what stops you need to make along the way?
I know, I know, ignoring that voice until then is a lot easier said than done. Turning off that voice for the first initial words of your new project is difficult, but I promise you. Once you do turn that voice off, things get a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun. When you aren’t worried about finding the perfect way to say something, you get to actually explore the world you are writing about.
Something Else to Consider
Maybe it would help to realize that that inner editor voice of yours often isn’t even your own voice. Parts of it are, sure, but I find that it is mixed in with other voices as well.
This was something I’ve noticed recently. For me personally, the voice can be broken up into several different people who have edited my stuff in the past. Each voice catches different elements of my writing and some are nicer than others. It isn’t uncommon for me to write something and then immediately think how Editor A will hate this aspect, while Editor B will be confused by this other part.
Sometimes these thoughts will cause me to hesitate on what I write next, but then I think of something else. Something very, very important. Something that every writer needs to remember.
You aren’t writing for them.
You are writing for yourself. This is supposed to be fun, and you should be writing what you want to read. If what you wrote makes you happy, then that is all that matters.
Remembering that, and identifying which voices are slowing my progress down can help me get back on track. I just remember that everyone has their own preferred tastes when it comes to writing and reading. If one of the voices doesn’t agree with my own voice and my own goal for the story, then I don’t listen to it.
Not everything that is offered up as “critique” is worth listening to.
Have Faith in Your Abilities
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, it is important to recognize that you do know what you are doing sometimes. You may not know how to do everything, but there are definitely somethings that you know how to do well.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re not a horrible writer. The more you learn about writing, the worse you will think you are doing. This isn’t because you are bad at writing, but because you have higher standards than when you started. Even the areas that you aren’t so great at can be improved on. You just need to practice. Don’t give up, keep writing and one day you’ll look back and honestly, probably still be disappointed because your standards went up again.
I’m afraid it might be a never-ending cycle.
But don’t fret. You will have come a long way. Just keep trying to improve your skills and you’ll be fine.
On top of that, your story will seem boring to you because you are sooooooooooooo familiar with it that you see it in your sleep. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, just that you know it really well, which you should. You wrote it.
You Can Do This!
Shutting up that inner editor voice of yours may not seem like an easy task, but it can be with practice. You just have to ignore it. When you are starting your first draft of a project, it isn’t going to be perfect and you shouldn’t expect it to be. If you can let go of that desire for perfection on your first try, you’ll find writing to be a heck of a lot easier.
And infinitely more fun. Honestly, some of the most fun stuff I’ve written lately has been my Wednesday Writing prompts because I don’t expect them to be perfect. I write them in a day and then immediately share them. The only editing they get is from Grammarly, which is pretty basic.
Mistakes and imperfections are a part of life. Don’t fear them: Embrace them. The more mistakes you make, the more you’ll learn and soon enough your writing will reflect everything that you’ve learned.