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.