How to shut down your inner editor
It can blare out while you’re working on any piece, anytime, anywhere. You’re writing along like butter, and suddenly a stomach-wrenching jolt slams you up against a concrete wall. That thunderous voice in your head rebukes: “THAT’S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE, STUPID PHRASE SINCE . . . .” And you’re paralyzed.
Take heart. Such a message doesn’t have to plunge you into a full block. Recognize it for what it is—your ever-present inner editor, often old programming, maybe residue of parental strictures, telling you that you shouldn’t be writing, you’ll never be a writer, and you might as well go sell burner phones (if that’s not your day job already).
Like all of us writers, I’ve experienced this forbidding voice many times. But its fearsome fireworks, like those of the Wizard of Oz, mask its instability. And, as Dorothy and her friends proved on the yellow brick road, the terrifying presence can be crushed.
When I first heard the inner editor’s deafening, dismissive voice, it stopped me cold. First, I sat staring at the blank screen. Then I wandered hopelessly around the house, like an orphan in a canyon. My current project lay abandoned, drafts yellowing and computer files corrupting.
I longed for a savior on a white IPad. But realizing that only I could break that catatonic state and pierce through my paralysis, I continued.
Teeth chattering and fingers shivering, I punched out the offending words (or phrases or clichés). The dread voice continued to intone and as usual, I almost froze. But after a few minutes, from some subconscious forest, Excalibur appeared. It charged me to type one more word that calmed, commanded and cut through the hailstorm of criticism. The word? FIX.
This innocent three-letter, I’ve found, word triggers a palliative magic that renders that inner monster powerless and keeps me writing.
- It tells me that what I’ve just written isn’t typed in cement.
- It reminds me that this is only the first draft, or the fifth, or the fifteenth.
- It assures me I’ve got as many shots as I want.
- It reminds me I can go back, and where to go back, any time to fix it.
- It acknowledges that I know already, without the Editor’s blasts, that this word/phrase/cliché is much less than my best.
- It admits that this might not be my finest hour, but so what?
- It gently confirms that the writing process is one of trial and error, coaxing and courting, boldness, patience, and courage.
And, most miraculously, it shows me I can trust my mind.
Writing FIX after the offensive passage does more than buckle the Inner Editor giant at the knees. It also, mysteriously, releases my imprisoned creativity.
After I type FIX, two seconds or two minutes later, as I’m deep into the next paragraph, my eyes flit back up the screen. With hardly conscious thought, like apples bobbing up in water, new words surface. They’re invariably better than those first horrific ones, and sometimes even the right ones.
For example, a few lines back, that orphan simile came rather easily. But the words directly before it ignited the inner ogre’s abuse:
I mope around like an orphan . . .
I feel like an orphan . . .
I wanted to run for the coal cellar. Yet, swallowing and following my own advice, I weakly pecked out FIX. Three lines and barely five minutes later, the right phrase popped up, and I wandered hopelessly no more.
You’ve probably already thought of your own examples, even if your methods are different. Maybe you just haven’t given yourself credit. Now you can FIX that.
So, the next time you hear your own version of the frightful condemning Inner Editor’s voice, just greet it with a FIX. This little word enables you not only to keep going and meet your word or minute count for the day. It also, astounding, sets your creativity free.
And you’ll be thrilled to discover greater confidence in your mind, your abilities, and your work. You’ll see that you can FIX anything.
© 2020 Noelle Sterne
Noelle is a contributor to TAA’s new book, Guide to Making Time to Write: 100+ Time & Productivity Management Tips for Textbook and Academic Authors. Now available as a print and eBook.
Dissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her second novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com