Turning off the Inner Editor

We all have an inner editor. As writers, sometimes he / she’s a little more developed than normal folks’ have. And certainly, the inner editor can be very useful – when he sticks his nose in where he belongs, like during rewrites, critiques, and evaluations. At other times, he can be a mean little toad who murders perfectly decent ideas. This can be damage in a normal situation to your creativity, but even more so if you’ve been having problems writing anyway.

So, turn off the inner editor. Easy, right?

For some, it really isn’t. While there may be some writers out there who can cope with the editor being “on” all the time — and I confess sometimes I do use it, doing some writing and then rewriting all at the same time — generally the inner editor reduces productivity.

However, lucky for you I do have a method you can use to shut down that editor. It’s fun, too. It’s called “playing what-if”. This can serve as a way to make sure the editor switch is in the “off-mode” until you need him, too.

Ready to play? Okay. Either get a blank piece of paper of some kind, or open a new document in a composition program.

Done that? Now, consider something you’re working on, and look for problems. What you’re looking for are any holes you have that could be preventing you from writing. Are you missing the black moment for your hero in the overall external plot? Perhaps a scene is giving you particular problems. Maybe motivation. Whatever it is, try to choose something specific. Let’s say the question is: where do I go now? what happens next in my 19th century mystery?

Write the problem at the top of your page – again, specific enough that you can hone it done. For some more complicated matters you may need to brainstorm like this several times. But, try to come up with something you can work on. Now, either number the page 1 through 10, or turn on the numbers setting, whatever you need. Set a timer for, say, 1 minute to start. Now start writing! As fast as you can, start listing everything that comes to mind as a possibility when you see the question you’ve set ahead of yourself. EVERYTHING. Here’s where that editor-toad could trip you up if you haven’t switched it firmly to the “off” position. If something comes to mind, then you write it down, got that? Yes, I know something absurd may have occurred to you. Something that doesn’t fit the genre, your style, your desires, whatever, but it doesn’t matter: write it down.

So, let’s try an example. Let’s say my question was: Who would be a suitable heroine for my half-man, half-iguana man in nineteenth century Costa Rica?

1 – a half-llama, half-leopard woman

2 – someone who works in the circus

3 – a female elf

4 – another half-iguana / half-human which he’s been looking for the whole time, since they’re so rare and dying out.

5 – an elephant woman

6 – a female scientist who stumbles upon the hero while out categorizing insects or plant life.

7 – a female pirate, who becomes stranded and the hero saves her.

8 – a kidnapped heiress who escapes her captors and ends up reluctantly rescued by our hero

9 – the fiancee (or some distant relative) of another relative of the man who knows he’s been missing, and wants to find him to return him to the bedside of a dying relation

10 – the woman who has loved him from a distance – since he won’t have it any other way – and who has snuck aboard his ship and followed our half-iguana man all the way to Costa Rica.

There. Whew. Done.

Now, if my inner editor had been turned on, I may have abandoned some of those ideas (quite possibly the entire idea that the hero is half-man, half-iguana to begin with). My first idea is also probably too bizarre to ever work, since I’m not sure what I was thinking of, but I wrote it down anyway. With the editor turned firmly off, I came up with some ideas that actually do spark some story ideas for me, that get me thinking. Then there’s more inner editor-free time to brainstorm further and start writing. The inner editor can come up again during plotting (he can search and poke out plot holes) and during rewrites. But before then, he’s out. Because after all, if he’s around my poor half-man, half-iguana will be lonely forever, won’t he, because I probably would have abandoned him from the start.

So, have you had some quality inner-editor-free time recently? If not, you really should. I’ve attended conferences where writers are afraid to brainstorm – and not very good at it – because they too quickly discount ideas as “that won’t work” in the initial brainstorming stage, which makes it all the harder for them to come up with viable ones. Think of a child, and how they can play and imagine whatever they like, editor free. So have fun and play in your writing. Who knows what you might create and come up with on an editor-free day.

Some Suggestions to Get You Writing Again

Well, this past week hasn’t been too bad. I have, at least, started writing again, and finally feel I’m making progress, even if it isn’t as much as I’d like (but let’s leave that alone, shall we?)

So, what got me back writing? I did a few different things, and since perhaps they could help you, I’m listing what I did and have heard can help below.

Using other writing / notes to get you started:

  • Go back over old notes for WIPs (Works in Progress).

Look at those old notes. Is there enough information there to get you writing again? Was there something missing that stopped you before, or possibly gave you a semi-reasonable reason to quit? If there are holes in the plot notes, how can you fill them?

  • Look over abandoned beginnings and other randomly scribbled story notes or ideas.

I’ve found that when I’m not writing one particular novel and being highly productive, I’ve started lots of stories, but haven’t finished many of them. So, go back over what you have that you started on. Does one in particular catch your fancy or excite you again? Perhaps an old idea sparks a new one.

Using other methods to get started:

  • Try a change of environment.

Perhaps you’ve always written in your office, or at your kitchen table. What about (if possible, especially with a laptop) moving to the couch? Outside? What about using a public computer, or moving your laptop to a coffee shop? Perhaps a different environment will free up your thinking.

  • Music

Do you usually work in complete silence? Have you ever tried working with music in the background? Is there music you’d imagine could be a soundtrack for your story? What about noticing how different music can inspire different moods? Experiment to find what works. Then create a playlist that could help you write a particular story / WIP, and don’t be afraid to change it up to match the tone / time period / genre you’re working on. This can also be helpful when switching between two genres or sub-genres to get you properly “situated” in the story.

  • Write something outside of your genre.

Experiment. Play. Remember why writing can and is fun (even though sometimes it’s not). Perhaps you just saw a great movie in a genre you’d never write in. Challenge yourself to write a scene or develop a character in that genre. What challenges does this present? What scenarios / characters are you drawn to? Perhaps this could be used in or even become a future WIP.

  • Try timed writing, either to create a short story or perhaps spark the beginning of something longer.

Look for themes suggested on-line or invent something yourself. Timed writing can be to fit a particular theme, like say “ducks”. Or, it can be just you, a timer, and the keyboard. Whatever happens, you just start typing and have to continue to write for the five minutes / ten minutes / hour you demand of yourself. You may start out typing that you have no idea what to write, or perhaps something comes to mind: just go with it, just keep writing. This is not meant to be a masterpiece, but it is meant to get you writing.

  • Try writing to fulfill a particular theme or “assignment”.

This could be timed or untimed, could be specific or vague. There are lots of prompts out there, like “write about the sea” or “write something sad” or “write about a very old / young / annoying person, from their POV,” etc. Whatever the case, just start writing and force yourself to write to either time limit or word count. Much of the work may not be something you’ll use, but then again, perhaps you’ll discover something new about you and / or your writing.

  • Play the “what-if” game. Brainstorm.

Start with some kind of scenario, perhaps a scene you’re having trouble with. Brainstorm at least 10 ideas, and as you do so, do NOT allow yourself to edit as you do so. Turn off the inner-editor. Could your 19th century heroine be abducted by aliens? Of course she could. This may not turn out to be a viable idea, but if you let yourself write down whatever occurs, amongst some of the wild and crazy, there will be useful ideas, too.

So, did any of these ideas work? Below are some further ideas. Please, comment and leave others if I’ve missed some.

Here are some links to pages intended to start you writing again:

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things: How to get back to work after you’ve been gone awhile

So, it’s me again, though it’s been such a long time since I’ve been here. Life happens, as they say. And, sometimes when life happens – as it has to me – it takes you away from your writing desk and keyboard. Eventually, though, there comes a time when as writers we:

a) once more feel the drive to write dragging us back in a hurry, or

b) we know we’ve been away too long, and life just isn’t what it used to be without writing.

Of course, like anything, once you’ve been away for awhile it isn’t as easy as it once was. To me, getting back to the keyboard and wanting to be as productive as I was pre-break is as hard as going back into the gym after months and expecting you’ll be able to run as long, lift as much weight, or have the same endurance. More than likely, you’ll be feeling a bit flabby, out of breath, and very frustrated.

Take heart. Like getting back to the gym, it will take time to get back to where you were in your writing as well. In some ways, it’s like starting all over again. And perhaps, I’ve come to think, this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, if you’re starting all over again, what better time to rid yourself of poor habits, or engrain some really good habits? Perhaps too it’s time to reconsider things like your methods, your process, why you write at all.

So, I went back to a book I found inspiring some time ago, and still do:

Becoming a Writer, by Dorthea Brande (The link takes you to a page with chapter by chapter summaries, but I highly recommend actually reading the book – it’s a classic for a reason.)

The book got me thinking more positively again, as I tried to remember how it was I could “get into the groove” when I’m writing, how to get excited and become more productive again. I realized many of the things I was doing (like watching far too much television and recorded series on DVD) were NOT helping, and not so much because they were a waste of time (which they are) but because I was using up my words, using up my creativity watching someone else’s creativity. I needed to remember what inspires me to write, what gets me excited about writing.

Life has happened to me, which took me away from writing. And in some ways, things will never be the same as they were before. But that doesn’t still mean I can’t be a happy, productive writer.  I just need to go back to the beginning, start over in some ways, and build back to where I was back around this time last year. Like suddenly realizing I’ve gained back all the weight I lost at the gym, it will be a hard ride getting back to where I was, but worth it. Join me as I continue to reform and remind myself of my writing method, create new and better methods, and above all, keep writing.

Has “life happened” to you? Have you experienced a major change in your life or situation that has interfered with your writing? Please, share below.