All authors struggle with their inner editors, especially during the first draft. We know that first drafts are allowed to be skeleton-bones drafts—riddled with typos, misspellings, misplaced commas, character inconsistencies, and little description.
Author of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, says, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
Shannon Hale, author of the Princess Academy series, adds to this by saying, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
First drafts are that start, that pile of sand, and they’re hard for everyone. Overcoming the cringing and sneering of your inner editor to write that first draft is not for the faint of heart. But when I started editing and taking classes to train my inner editor to be especially keen and nitpicky, I found first drafts to be even harder. As an editor, I have to notice passive voice, misplaced commas, character inconsistencies, and a whole list of other issues. I struggled not to allow my inner editor to shred my writing each time I opened the document or grabbed a pencil and notebook.
“Did you just use passive voice again?”
“There should be a comma there.”
“Would your character really do that?”
His comments shot down every word I typed. I told myself, “It’s good to be nitpicky.” I wanted my story to be perfect, right? So, I listened to him. Every single time he opened his mouth.
It’s been years since I’ve completed a novel and moved on to a new one. Sure, I’ve had ideas for other stories, but I could never get past my WIP (“Work in Progress”) to truly start on something else. I struggled moving past that first chapter because it wasn’t perfect. I couldn’t seem to get it just right. I allowed my inner editor to control and destroy my writing.
As I completed editing projects, writers told me that I was good at it—that I was helpful at pointing out and helping fix mistakes. But when I sat down to write my own story, I couldn’t get out of editing mode. I couldn’t unsee the passive voice I wrote or all the sentences beginning with the same word.
I had a dilemma. Editing is my passion and part of God’s calling for me, so I couldn’t stop developing my inner editor. However, God has also called me to write, and I wasn’t writing. Somehow, I needed to find a way to switch between my editing and writing hats.
Only recently did I find a solution that has worked as I switch hats: setting specific goals.
It came to me slowly. I had entered a previous draft of my WIP in the 2016 OYAN Student Novel Contest, but I knew this was the last year I could enter again before I aged out. August 15 was the deadline, and as of the end of the Summer Workshop (June), I didn’t have a novel I could enter. Writing excerpts for my Summer Workshop critique group when my story idea was barely developed was tough enough with my inner editor, but write a whole novel?
Being my last year to enter, though, why not try?
After rush-outlining that same barely-developed story idea, I joined Camp NaNoWriMo this past July and set a goal of 50,000 words. I wrote the entire novel that month and entered my rough first draft into the OYAN Novel Contest.
For the first time in a long time, I’d actually accomplished a writing goal!
Of course, instead of learning from that experience and analyzing what worked, I fell back into a slump of not writing and not being able to stand looking at my writing. I missed writing. I wanted to write. I just didn’t know how.
That is when I decided to give some serious thought to how I could manage to wear both hats without one of them taking over. NaNoWriMo worked well for me because my focus was on the goal and not on perfection. My inner editor was focused on that goal as well, instead of on nitpicking every word I wrote.
So, at the beginning of November (I know, it took me a while to actually think about it), I decided that I would complete the final written draft of my WIP. Perhaps it won’t be the final draft forever, if I decide to pursue publication, but it will be the final draft for now. To accomplish this goal, I am writing five hundred words a day until I reach the end.
Each day, I set this goal high on my list of important tasks. And my inner editor knows that. Having this goal changed my focus from perfection to completion. No story will ever be perfect because there will always be someone who can find something wrong with it, and by switching my focus, I found it easier to switch hats as well.
In my editing hat, I am focused on finding and correcting grammatical mistakes, pointing out character inconsistencies, and suggesting areas to add more description. However, while wearing my writing hat, I am focused on reaching my goal of five hundred words a day and finishing this manuscript.
Even if you aren’t a freelance editor like me, all authors must wear both writing and editing hats as they go from first draft to final draft, and that switch can be a difficult one. If you find yourself struggling to switch hats, grab your favorite notebook and pen and set some goals for yourself.
The goals will be different for everyone as we are from different walks of life. For me, five hundred words a day is manageable with my work, school, and other activities. If I write more words, wonderful! But on days where I only have half an hour to spare, producing the minimum five hundred words is still an accomplishment of my goal. Decide on what goals will work best for you.
Take some time to think. Are you struggling to switch between editor and writer hats? What are some specific goals you can set to narrow your focus?
Galaxy tights, mismatched socks, and a cup of tea in her tea-rex mug often accompany Megan when she sits down to write. Her passion for story has impacted her life since she and her sister first began enacting stories with their dolls and using their imaginations to create worlds of stories in their backyard. After graduating with her BA in English, she is currently earning a Graduate Certificate in Editing through UC Berkeley. Megan is using her love of story and purpose of serving Christ to write and edit at Literary Portals Editing. Find more about her and her editing services at http://literaryportals.com.
Staff Note: The novel that M. R. Shupp entered into our Student Novel Contest in 2017, Starless Night, was one of our finalists! We’re so pleased she set that particular goal.
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites and blogs do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.