Friday, September 08, 2006

Reading Over My Own Shoulder

One thing I've always had a problem with as a writer is turning off my brain. No, not all of it (although sometimes I think my prose reads like I had), but rather the analytical part that sits back in it's cerebral Lay-Z-Boy and takes pots shots at what is going onto the page. In other words, my internal editor.

I am by nature a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing, so this isn't a huge surprise for me. However, in the last few years, I have noticed it takes longer and longer, and becomes harder and harder, for me to move forward in a piece of fiction. This is not necessarily becasue I am constantly going back and revising (I actually try to avoid that, since it is huge pitfall for me), but rather it is my constant working and re-working of a paragraph or sentence to get it "just so." It's kind of like Kelly's comments about the "right" vs. the "perfect" word, except I am looking for the perfect phrasing for a block of text (or page, or chapter ending, or what have you).

I've tried all sorts of things to short-circuit my interal editor, but have never really been successful. I've found that I can sometimes consciously get myself to push forward and say "to hell with it - I'll fix it later", but that is a rare thing for me, and it never lasts.
The editor always comes back, always nit-picks, and always ends up frustrating me because I know what I have is fine, I should just move on - except I can't.

So my question is, how do you deal with your internal editor? How do you keep yourself from circling the same territory over and over (and over), and instead move on?

7 comments:

Kelly McCullough said...

My internal editor is a pretty cheery soul and doesn't believe that drafts matter all that much. It's only words after all, and what I'm really interested in is the story. I can always fix the prose later, after it's been ripped on by my external editors. I'm not sure that's really helpful, but the kernal of it is that for me the first time through is a draft and not intended to be permanent in any way. This probably stems at least in part from my background in theater. I'm used to thinking in terms of rehearsal and seeing that as the opportunity to fail really spectacularly without consequences.

Douglas Hulick said...

This probably stems at least in part from my background in theater. I'm used to thinking in terms of rehearsal and seeing that as the opportunity to fail really spectacularly without consequences.

This is a very interesting point.

It makes me think back to my own background in history and english, where I averaged roughly 10-15 papers a semester as an undergrad (yay, double major!). Since I was a procrastinator even then, my first draft was often also my final version. That may be where my internal editor did some of its early heavy lifting: I didn't have the luxury of failing - I needed clean, tight copy NOW! (or, as was often my case, YESTERDAY! :) Same for all the essay tests I had to take - the performance, as it were, was live, no net, no rehersal.

Hmm. Nice to know I only have 20 plus years of ingrained habit to break to get over this.

tate said...

My internal editor got broken by constant exposure to critique groups and Real Life (tm) editors.

Those last ones taught me that after I signed the contract the book was no longer mine, anyway, so why freak out about it now? Someone else is always going to want to mess with your perfections (and sometimes in ways you find utterly baffling, but perhaps that's another post for another day.)

Mari Adkins said...

turning off my brain I'm bipolar, so I get a double-dose. I had raging insomnia from March of last year until late January of this year. It was the absolute pits. The brain just goes from "channel to channel" like a stereo stuck on permanent "seek". :(

In other words, my internal editor In my case, it's scenes and characters who won't hush. Scenes come flying out, "You need to write about this." Characters come around wanting to discuss what's going on in their lives and the directions they're headed. Or gods forbid, to argue with each other. :facepalm:

The editor always comes back, always nit-picks, and always ends up frustrating me because I know what I have is fine, I should just move on - except I can't. I'm still finding nitpicky bits in Midnight, and I sent off the "final" copy in April 2005.

How do you keep yourself from circling the same territory over and over (and over), and instead move on? I've made myself stop keeping running prints of every change I make. Before, I would write something, print it out, stick it in my "working" binder. If I changed anything, it got reprinted. I'd end up with a gazillion reprints. Now I hang on to each printed section until it's so marked up that it's nearing illegible before I type it back up again.

My biggest downfall is picking up the binder to look for soemthing, finding a mistake elsewhere, and sitting there scribbling in the margins to fix it. I keep telling myself that I've got to stop doing that. Maybe someday I actually will.

Eleanor said...

I trick my internal editor by saying, "I'll fix it later." I'm not sure (at this point) that it's perfectinism that stops me from writing. I suspect it's lack of time or motivation. Kae Wilhelm has some interesting things to say about this, which I will post.

Eleanor said...

...perfectionism...

Stephanie Zvan said...

Doug, I had the same problem when I started writing. There were a couple of things I did that helped.

The first was to write dead tired. Editing is a much higher-level function for me than writing, and I found that my internal editor got sleepy a lot sooner than the part of me that wanders down more speculative paths (i.e., daydreams). Typing is not a skill that is improved by this method, but it's a small price to pay for getting something written.

The second was to encourage a certain natural cockiness on the part of my internal editor. I know that I'm a better editor than I am a writer. I know that I'm a pretty decent editor. So I've shaped the mocking tendencies of my editor into a challenge for my writer. Sort of a "Ha! You think that's bad? You can't write anything bad enough that I can't fix it." It's terribly freeing. So far, it's also been true.