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When Your Inner Editor Roars

By Noelle Sterne, PhD

You’re writing along like butter, and suddenly a thunderous voice in your head rebukes: “THAT’S THE WORST, MOST HORRIBLE PHRASE SINCE . . . .” And you’re in a hammerlock of immobilization.

Such a message doesn’t have to lay you flat on the mat in a full writing block. Recognize that voice: it’s your ever-present inner editor—often old programming, parental censures, or frustrated-poet English teachers’ decrees. And it proclaims that you’ll never be a writer and you should go sell burner phones (if you don’t already).

I’ve experienced this forbidding voice many times, as you may have. But its hair-raising fireworks, like those of the Wizard of Oz, mask its instability. And, as Dorothy and her friends proved, the terrifying presence can be unmasked.

At the first appearance of the inner editor’s deafening, dismissive voice, I was stopped 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 then I recognized that only I could break that catatonic hold.

Teeth chattering and fingers trembling, I punched out the only words (or clichés) that came. 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, and this word calmed, commanded, and cut through the scorn. It was this: FIX.

I found that this innocent three-letter word triggers a palliative magic that renders the inner hulk powerless and keeps me writing. Why?

  1. It tells me that what I’ve just written isn’t typed in cement.
  2. It reminds me that this is only the first draft, or fifteenth.
  3. It assures me I’ve got as many shots as I want.
  4. It reminds me I can go back, and where to go back, any time, to FIX it.
  5.  It admits that I know already, without the inner editor’s blasts, that this terrible turn of phrase is much less than my best.
  6.  It indirectly confirms the writing process is one of trial and error, coaxing and courting, boldness, patience, and courage.
  7. Inexplicably, FIX also releases my imprisoned creativity.
  8. And, most miraculously, this word shows me I can trust my mind.

To illustrate–Two seconds after I typed two insipid similes for wandering around hopelessly, above, I knew I was in trouble. The inner bully jeered:
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.

When I was deep into the next paragraph, my eyes flitted back up the screen. With hardly conscious thought, like apples bobbing in water, I heard new words. They were invariably better than those first horrific ones, maybe even the right ones. The better simile popped up {“like an orphan in a canyon”), and I wandered hopelessly no more.

Maybe you’ve 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 your frightful inner editor roars, stand up to it and greet it with courage, and remember you’re armed with a FIX. You’ll extract yourself from the debilitating chokehold. You’ll discover and develop greater confidence in your mind, your abilities, and your work. And you’ll see that you can FIX anything.

© 2024 Noelle Sterne

Noelle SterneDissertation 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 many 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 third novel. Visit Noelle at