How to Silence Your Internal Editor
In my past article How I Write 3,000 Words Per Hour, I talk about the idea of keeping the door closed when you write and keeping it open when you edit. Of course, the phrase is not entirely literal. When you’re writing your first draft you shouldn’t bother yourself with critiquing and editing every last sentence. Too many writers think the first draft should be perfect, and if it’s anything less, they have to start all over. Other writers trudge through a bog of their own making, continuously re-writing their first paragraph. They get so drained and exhausted. It’s no wonder why they give up.
Believe it or not many, many writers do this (and have done this) throughout the ages. J.R.R. Tolkien plagued his first drafts with overt perfectionism and would throw dozens of copies away because he wasn’t satisfied. In the meantime, his best pal, C.S. Lewis, wrote book after book with ease.
You’re a writer. If you want to finish your projects like Professor Lewis, then it’s time you started acting like one. Here are five tips for writing faster and silencing your inner editor:
1. Shut the Door
The only way you will make progress with your first draft is by shutting the door. This may sound silly, but I recommend mentally picturing a door closing before you begin writing. Kick out your internal editor and tell him to take a hike. Be free to write whatever comes out of your mind. Perhaps do your best to keep grammar and syntax intact, but if you goof up, don’t remove the error. Depending on how well you have that door padlocked and secured, your inner editor might not fight too much. Sometimes it might seem like you’re fighting him a lot at first. He’ll appear and you’ll have to kick him out once again. Eventually, when you’ve got enough practice, the door will remain shut.
2. Do not Open the Door Until Completion
Another mistake is for writers to finish perhaps half of their draft and immediately open the door to critique it endlessly. Again, you’re likely to bog yourself down and never get out. Do not open the door to the inner editor until the first draft is officially complete.
3. Tell Yourself that It’s Okay the First Draft Sucks
The first draft is going to suck. It’s going to be the most awful, terrible, lousy, no good piece of filth that you’ve ever written. And that’s okay. Once you open that door, you can have an open season and re-write to your heart’s content, but until that time, it’ll suck. And that’s A-okay. That’s what a first draft is for.
4. Create a System
I’ve created my own writing production system. Three steps: Pre-production, production, and post-production systems. It’s pretty simple and classic, but it works for me. Doing this helped me to mentally feel okay with a project’s current status and not feel rushed by any future step. For instance, if you’re putting together notes, outlines, character portraits, you’re in the pre-production phase and in no way should start the first draft until that’s finished. Production is writing and that means not jumping ahead to post-production by editing. Once you got to your post-production phase, you can edit your guts out. Having these steps in place will help you understand what phase you’re in and to tell yourself that the other phases will come later and not to jump the gun. Create your own system, preferably with writing and editing in two different boxes, separated from each other, and you’ll write much faster.
5. Let Your Completed Draft Brew for One to Two Weeks
Your draft is complete. Now, what? Do you open the door and let your editor in? I say no. You’ll be quite eager to get busy tearing your first draft apart, but unfortunately, it’s too fresh. It’s odd, but you need to let the draft sit and brew for some time before you go back and open the door. You’ll have a fresh perspective. You’ll see it with new eyes. And you’ll likely have a flush of new ideas to inject in the later drafts while you edit. And, while you’re letting the draft brew, you should totally get to work on that other idea you had.
If you can successfully keep your inner editor out of the equation, then you’ll not only complete projects, you’ll complete them faster and give yourself an added boost of confidence.
Practice this technique and tell me how it’s working for you in the comments below!