Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tips for Turning Off Your Internal Editor

Have you ever had this happen to you? You sit down for a spell of uninterrupted writing with plenty of inspiration and no distractions. Caffeine of choice at the ready. Promising blank page in front of you. But an unwanted intruder rains all over your keyboard -- your Internal Editor. The uninvited kink in the lines between brain and fingertips. 

Here are some tips to send the overthinking intruder packing. I'm not talking permanently, but just on a little vacation with a return ticket that you get to negotiate. 

Get rid of all distractions. Turn your Wi-Fi off. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode. Check into programs that will freeze your browser so you can't waste time inciting the suspicion of the FBI with your search engine terms. When I'm in the middle of writing, if I'm not 100% sure about a fact or wonder what detail can add a little something-something to a scene, I will stop what I'm doing and Google it. The temptation is real. But this is a temptation that can lead to rabbit trails, so it's best to avoid it in the first place. You can fill in details once you're in editing mode and not sacrifice the flow of your story in the meantime.

Free write. Sometimes it works best to dig up a blank notebook and a pen with plenty of ink and just write. Though some of the most famous writers wrote their masterpieces on cocktail napkins and hotel stationery. No Delete key or Undo option to tempt them. Just free, unhindered writing. There's something about going old school that turns off the Internal Editor. You don't see misplaced commas or phrasing that doesn't feel quite right. There's more of a focus on what words are coming next, in my experience. {Free writing also can work wonders for writer's block!}

Set a timer. If you like competing against yourself, set your phone, oven, or other device and see how many words you can crank out in that increment of time. Depending on your level of attention, you can start small with 15- or 30-minute increments, especially if you're pressed for time, and then work your way up. If this kind of thing motivates you, before the timer starts, think of a small reward like another piece of chocolate or 15 minutes to make sure the world didn't end in the time you weren't on Facebook. Somehow the urgency is helpful to stave off the lure of the Internal Editor to press pause.

Commission some accountability. If you're part of a critique group, ask them to hold you accountable to turning off your internal editor. There are also entire hashtags in existence on social media where total strangers keep each other accountable. And there's some really sweet, encouraging people out there! Two communities off the top of my head include #1K1HR and #SprintWithUs on Twitter. Even though it's technically not a competition, if you're a competitive person, knowing you have a fixed period of time to write more words than someone else can be great motivation to employ less backspacing and more unhindered storytelling.

Edit after each writing session. Some can't imagine a life without editing as they go. If this describes you, there may be a way to trick your Internal Editor a little, or at least pacify it for the time being. Why not wait until the chapter or scene is finished and edit on a more micro level? This way those nervous ticks toward the backspace key can find solace in the fact that they'll be needed soon.

Turning off the Internal Editor can be difficult and takes lots of practice to perfect. But I'd invite you to see what less interruption and overthinking can do for your writing and how saving the editing, fact-checking, etc. for later means you can better look at your story as a more cohesive body of work. 

What tactics help you turn off your internal editor? Which of these tips are you more inclined to try first?


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business. 

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:

Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson


kaybee said...

Thank you Laurie. I have a lot of "internal editor" issues and the more I grow as a writer, the more the issues go because I keep seeing things I have to fix. I'll fix a grammatical error or go back to deepen an emotion, but I agree with you that fact-checking on a first draft is SUCH a time-suck. I get led down the garden path All Too Easily. Thus I have a hard time with things like NANO and Speedbo, though I still do them. Right now I'm trying to get my character to go undercover in a mobster's home and I've never been in a mobster's home, so...I am winging it.
Thanks again.
Kathy Bailey

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Laurie, welcome back! What great suggestions. I LOVE 1K1Hr on Facebook. When I'm fast drafting, I often go over there and post, then turn off the internet and get busy. It's always a treat when someone else also wrote during that time and commented on my post. We can keep encouraging each other if we're writing more during the day. Plus, just trying to see how many words I can crank out in an hour is ridiculously thrilling to me. :)

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Thank you! I'm proud of your dedication and attention span :) I'm still learning and practicing on this one.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@ Kathy - I have yet to finish a NaNo or SpeedBo because I write so slowly. I've always kind of told myself quality over quantity was important, but now I see that overthinking kind of cramps the "muse" :)