Thursday, January 23, 2014

FAQ: Managing Your Inner Editor

Continuing my Frequently Asked Questions series, here's another question I hear all the time (including yesterday on Twitter!): how do I write through my Inner Editor? How do I protect my creativity and output from that constant nagging feeling that I'm doing this wrong, that I'm not good enough and never will be?

This is a complicated issue, and one that will never be fully resolved, because feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are just part of being a writer (or an artist, or a human). The entire practice of writing your thoughts out and then putting them up not just to be read, but to be judged, is nerve wracking for everyone (and anyone who claims they're not anxious when their book goes out for the first time is either enlightened or a liar). But while these insecurities and fears are universal and inevitable, they don't have to rule your life. They can't, or else you'll never finish anything. So, here's how I deal with my "Inner Editor," hopefully it will also be helpful to you.

Let's start with some terminology. Though I use it myself because it's the accepted label for the phenomenon, I actually take great umbrage to the term "Inner Editor." An editor is someone who criticizes your book in order to help you improve it. They are on your side. What we're talking about here is really more like your Inner Amazon Reviewer. And not one of the good ones either, but the truly toxic, anonymous, nitpicking trolls who tear books down for the thrill of it.

That's how I think of the voice in my head, not as an editor or a critic or anyone with actual authority on the subject, but as a troll. I respect my editors and critics, I value their input, but trolls have nothing to offer the conversation, and ninety nine times out of a hundred, neither does the nagging voice in your head.

This isn't to say you should ignore potential problems you notice while writing. You do, however, have to remember to be cognoscente of the fact that not all issues are worthy of action. "My heroine needs to make more choices so she doesn't end up a passenger in her own story" is a valid criticism that deserves consideration. "Vampires are stupid, only stupid people write about vampires" is not. Neither is "[Insert famous author here] never used that word," or "No one will ever want to read this."

As with pretty much everything in writing ever, the key to managing your inner Amazon troll is mindfulness and attention. If you're writing or editing and you're just constantly down on yourself about what you're producing, stop a second and ask, why? Why am I being so mean to myself? Are these valid criticisms, or am I just afraid and taking it out on my work? And remember, it's perfectly normal and okay to be afraid. The act of writing something you're going to ask people to read means opening yourself up to rejection, and everyone is afraid of rejection. But you do need to recognize that fear for what it is when it's clouding your judgment of your work. You also need to realize that your viewpoint here probably won't be objective, so I highly recommend having a trusted critique partner (I use my husband) who can look at your story and tell you if it actually sucks or if you're just being ridiculous.

The most important thing to remember in all of this is that no story is perfect, or is going to please all people. Even The Last Unicorn has 1 star reviews (I HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON WITH THOSE PEOPLE). No matter what you write, someone's going to hate it, and that's okay, because someone else will love it beyond reason. All you can do is write the best book you can, and if it flops or falls apart, make the next one better, and never ever make long term decisions ("I'll never write again") off short term freakouts. Because at the end of the day, writing is a vocation, not a one time effort, and the more you write and submit and publish and deal with rejection, the less frightening the process becomes.

So while you'll probably never be truly rid of your inner troll, your ability to tell it to STFU will increase exponentially, as will your ability to sort through the negative noise to find the important things your real inner editor is trying to tell you, the actual problems you need to fix to make your book better, and that is the voice you should be listening to.

Good luck with your writing and I hope this helps!


BG said...

I can relate sooo much to this post. It's really easy for me to compare my work to all the best-sellers, to think I'll never ever be as good as them and feel pretty much like a failure. What I do to fight off those feelings is to remember what got me into writing in the first place, hold on to that and do my best to ignore the Amazon Review Voice.

Sandy Williams said...

(Sorry if this message posts a million times. I was on my iPhone and couldn't seem to make it work.)

lol Inner troll. I love that. Next time my inner troll tells me my book stinks, I'm going to kick her in the shin.


Jennavier Gilbert said...

I love calling it the inner troll! I've always called it my inner mean girl. It's like I grew up and left all that crap behind but decided to take one with me in my subconscious.

Katie said...

This is great - thanks! It's always difficult to write around that negative voice in your head but I think it's going to help if I regard it as a troll instead of an editor.

Selina said...

That 'Amazon Troll' has been what I've been struggling with for weeks now and I had even asked a few writer friends how we get past that.

Sadly, none of us had an answer. I'm hoping that classifying it as something different than my 'inner editor' will help me make progress. Thank you so much for posting about this.

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