Silence your inner editor

Welcome to Friday on the GWN blog! We’re international! Today we have German author Annemarie Nikolaus talking about that pesky inner editor.

Here’s Annemarie!

Years ago, my first try with NaNoWriMo was an enlightenment: to get those 50,000 words done (what I did) I had to stop massaging each sentence, till I believed it to be “right”. Just write, write, write – no matter what and no matter how. As they say: “You can always revise later, but you can’t revise an empty page.”

Okay, this we all know. But there is more to it. And it’s even more important: write “no matter what” turned out to be fun and adventurous. It let me discover connections between the characters and some twists I’d never thought of, because I did not know they existed.

Since then, I trust my characters to know what they are doing … Uhm … I try to trust them. There is one little green monster in my head who speaks up from time to time to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing.

Hell … But he is right.

What now?

Many writers at that point stop and begin to look how to fix things, maybe returning to plotting or even revising the whole thing. Me too. I sometimes still struggle not to begin brooding. Especially, when I have “too much time” – no deadline in sight.

But what else can you do, as you can’t deny it?

Instead of agonizing over the book, you might try another answer to your inner editor: Tell him you don’t need to know, because you have stuff at hand which will guide you through the novel. Your characters.

You don’t believe me? Then I have a story for you to illustrate.

During another NaNoWriMo I decided to write a historical, taking place in Naples during the revolt of 1647. At the beginning I had nothing more than my heroine, her brother and half a page about what might be the main conflict. I began to write, the story unfolded and the characters showed up. Everything was fine. But the most stunning thing happened after finishing the first draft: I discovered that the hero was one of the oldest noble families of France. And thus he had brought his own story with himself, based on the fact that in 1642 a Duke de Montmorency failed in a revolt against the French king and was executed. – The people in our stories know a lot more of themselves than we do.

In this case, being a historian, I obviously had found the name somewhere in my sub consciousness. All brooding and plotting would not have brought me there.

We can apply to our writing something psychoanalysis teaches: not to fight resistance, but to go along with it. When the inner editor shows up, let him growl, write on and have fun making stuff up.

With great success some friends have tested this same method to overcome writer’s block. Writer’s block means you dare not write, because nothing seems to be right or good enough. Now the trick is try to write as badly as you can. So you can happily tell your inner editor that you do it on purpose and he has to shut up.

By the way, you will be astonished how difficult it actually is to write really “bad”. I learned it working as a freelance journalist: Anything that I shipped was better than nothing. Whatever I sent, I had at least the chance to get paid. So I often began to write “last minute” without a clear idea in mind. Very rarely I had to revise.

Every writer is different, but maybe you are curious now: If you feel uncomfortable trying it with a “serious” project: November is not far away. You could free your calendar and subscribe to the next NaNoWriMo. You’ll have a lot of fun and perhaps kill that nasty inner editor forever.

© Annemarie Nikolaus

image002Annemarie Nikolaus is a German author and journalist. She writes in German. After twenty years in Italy she now lives in the heart of France.

So far, one of her short story collections has been published in English: ”Magical Stories”. She plans to publish the above mentioned Neapolitan historical in English, too.

Homepage www.annemarie-nikolaus.de

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cindy here again!

Great post, Annemarie! I give myself permission to write crap the first time and go back and fix it later.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

2 comments

  • Yakinamac
    September 5, 2013 at 7:59 am

    All good advice. My problem, though, is that I’ve got so used to telling my inner editor to shut up that I’m having difficulty prodding her back into life now that I’m working on my second draft! Any ideas very welcome: http://mrsholderslegacy.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/an-appeal-for-carol-deserted-by-her-inner-critic/

    • Annemarie
      September 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Don’t worry about its health: He’s already back – telling you, you’d not be able to judge the quality of your writing. (I read your blog post.) Though there is some truth in it, mentioning this quite useless point, he tries to undermine your confidence!
      If inner editors can’t confront us directly, they disguise in irrelevant arguments: My one used to tell me that I’d be wy too tired to work and better take a nap – even at 11 a.m..
      Just go on and do the best you can, when you revise. If you don’t produce completely screwed sentences – and your blog shows, you don’t -, you may trust in your story.
      You will always have to deal with the fact that there are way too little markers, if a story is “good” or “bad”. The judgement depends on so many aspects – nowadays no one would publish Fontane or Balzac: Their way of storytelling would be considered boring. On the other hand, often readers like a story that is not “good” by way of classical standards, but they meet their expectations and they feel entertained.

      Btw: Funny that you see your inner editor as a “she”. For me it’s male; perhaps because of the German gender of the word.

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