Everyone has that voice inside them — the one whispering (or screaming) that you aren’t good enough, can’t complete this project, will eventually fail, or any other doubting it does.
This isn’t you talking. It’s your inner editor. And there’s a time and place for him to come out. Now is not that time.
With NaNo starting on Friday, some of us have been putting off new projects to prepare for the month. I’ve spent time reading and editing my old works that lead up to my NaNo novel (I am writing the third book in a series). That means my editor has been in overdrive, chatting away in my ear as I work on a third version of last year’s NaNo book (and the second in the series).
If you want to win NaNoWriMo this year, you’re going to have to work at a quick pace and throw quality out the window. The name of the game is speed — getting something onto paper so your editor has something to work with… but not until much later. So for those of us who are a little out of practice in turning off the inner voice that makes us feel bad about our writing, here are some great ways to shut him up and conquer this new project.
Separate your editor from yourself
Literally. You are not your editor when you are writing, you are the writer. Your inner editor is a different being, and it’s an ugly one. You don’t need that weighing you down in November. Physically separate yourself from your editor—designate a physical object as your editor and chuck it out the window, let your dog bury it in the backyard, or burn it. If that’s a little weird, create an alter ego where there is no editing capabilities within that persona. It’s like you are becoming a character that you have created. They are going to be this hyper-focused, creative being that never runs out of ideas and has no idea what the backspace button looks like.
Break your writing apart
There’s a reason the NaNo site shows you progress against a 1,667 words per day graph. If you look at the end goal of 50,000 words, your editor will light up like a Christmas tree with negative phrases. Shut him up by breaking the work into manageable chunks.
Think about that number up there. Tackling 1,667 words is quite possible. You probably write that here on Medium in the span of one to one and a half articles. Or, if you’re a NaNo rebel and writing something besides a novel, just try to tackle one small project at a time. Writing 30 different poems? One a day. Writing a collection of short stories? Take your end goal and divide it by 30 and you have a daily goal.
I think the biggest hangup is that some days you aren’t going to get that goal. Some days you cannot physically find the time to put the work in. This is the gap your inner editor is looking for. He will creep in and tell you that you’ve failed. But fear not! There’s always the chance to make up for it another day. Or maybe you wrote twice as much yesterday because you knew you’d be busy today. There is always flexibility. Be kind to yourself.
Keep going, even when you find mistakes
In the middle of my first NaNo experience, I realized halfway through that something changed the trajectory of the story but needed to be fixed earlier in the book to make it flow. For a minute, I closed my computer and just stared into space. My first half was ruined. I would have to write the whole thing over again. I would have to go back and start from the beginning.
Get that inner editor out of here. The first half not working anymore didn’t negate all the words I had just put down. They still counted! Instead, I wrote and highlighted the following:
Go back and fix.
Four words (which I remembered and didn’t ‘count’ toward my final goal) gave me permission to move on to the next section as if the first half of my book was perfect. I continued the story as if I had created that incident from the beginning. Then, when I completed the goal of 50,000 words and then later the entire novel before the month ended, I went back and wrote those first chapters again. There was no damage to the story, just happy writing.
Hide editing tools
I know people who actually remove their backspace key when they write during NaNo. There are tools where you have no option to see anything but the last two sentences or lines you’ve written. If you write with white text on a white background, you can’t see anything. I’ve dabbled with a program that highlights the previous word you wrote and that’s it. You can also simply turn off spell check so those red squiggles don’t show up all over your page, especially if you are writing characters with obscure names. Do your best to avoid the backspace or delete key and take advantage of the comments or sticky notes you can place in your writing. You can always come back later.
Read your previous work: pros and cons
I personally like to read what I wrote in the last session (or at least the last few paragraphs before I stopped). Pro — it helps me reorient myself and get into the mindset of what I was working on. Pro — it also signals that it’s time to get into writing mode, like a routine. This works great if you write in chronological order with your story.
Con — you are tempted to edit. If I’m writing on a keyboard that is separate from my mouse or trackpad, I hide the keyboard. Otherwise, I sit on my other hand or busy it with something else. I take the approach of reading to gather information rather than reading to fix. Con — you hate what you just wrote and it ruins your mood. In these situations, I just make the same note that I did before. Note that you need to make a fix and move on as if you’ve already made those changes. It isn’t easy, but the more you work on it, the better you get.
Changing your self-talk
Even when you’ve created your alter-ego and shoved your inner editor in the basement, you’re still going to come across times where you just don’t like what you’re working on. You can always ask others for help in cheering you up, but keep in mind they don’t know the story you’re working on. Sometimes I would call my dad and vaguely talk about the scene I was struggling with. Having to pull myself out to a 3,000-foot view of the scene often fixed my problem — I had been too closed off to certain perspectives and just needed some separation.
You can create a mantra that your alter-ego owns. You are a great writer and this idea will work. Maybe you need to separate yourself from the work for a minute — take a walk, work on a different creative hobby, pet a puppy.
I like to self-talk my way into absurdity. I ask what the craziest thing that could happen to my characters would actually do. I take a look at my MC and wonder how I could absolutely tear every last shred of hope out of her. Every once in a while I think about the best thing she needs and give her that… then I rip it away again because it’s fun.
If you’ve completely lost passion for the project you’re working on, turn it into something crazy. Throw your characters through hell, make them do things that are so illogical and stupid that you just laugh, or start introducing settings or new characters that may or may not be your enemies in real life and then burn them all. It’s fine. I have no enemies and everyone lives in my books.
There are pros and cons to adding pressure to yourself as well. I thrive on a deadline or on challenges. If you tell me to write a novel in thirty days, I’m going to do it in ten (I actually did this, it was garbage, but who cares because it was a first draft). Pro — adding a time limit to your writing session, either self-imposed or because that’s the only time your schedule allows, will help you stay focused during that time and crunch out your words.
Con — sometimes people crumble under the pressure. The deadline looms and they just can’t get the words out. Please don’t do this to yourself. Writing a novel in thirty days is crazy, but you should still have fun. I mean, that’s why we should be writing these kinds of projects. If you start to lose that with pressure, decrease it. Instead of saying you’ll write for two hours every night, tell yourself that every time you have a small break you’ll let yourself write a few sentences. Those little moments add up, and then when you have that set time in the evening to write, you already have a portion of it done. And maybe you can add to your word count for the next day.
So whether you are working on your NaNoWriMo project or trying to get into the groove of starting a new piece, find a way to turn off your inner editor. A first draft is never perfect (and if it is, tell me which writing god you sacrifice to so I can get some help). Don’t let your inner editor beat you up.
Remember, you can’t edit a blank page.
Now go forth and write glorious garbage, my friends! Let’s tackle November with all the creative juices we have.
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