Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Infernal Internal Editors

I just posted a rambling, long-winded blog about my love/hate relationship with my internal editor/critic at SF Novelists, and I was thinking that I’d continue the conversation with myself over here. (This sentence reminds me of one of my current favorite lines by Spider-Man in Bendis’ New Avengers “Breakout” in which he says, “Man, my Spidey Sense is tingling so much I can hardly hear myself talk to myself.”)

I should be starting Tate’s newest Garnet Lacey novel, but I haven’t.

Normally, I allow myself a little bit of a hiatus between books to recharge. I do a little reading, TV and movie watching, and generally stare mindlessly at the passing clouds Calvin and Hobbes style. But, the deal has always been that once there’s a new contract, I get started.

This has often been a great delaying tactic since sometimes it takes a long time for this stuff to get hammered out. Oh, I’ll say, I can’t -- must wait, superstitions, you know. I’m not foolish enough to actually need to see the contract in hand (because THAT takes months), but to my mind there has to be a formal agreement between my editor and my agent before I’ll type word one.

Thing is, the deal’s already been struck. More than that, we negotiated a tighter deadline in exchange for a sweeter deal, so I know I need to get going on this one pronto.

So why haven’t I started? Every once and a while my internal editor gets switched up to high gear. I don’t know what triggers it. Sometimes it’s reading a really good book by another author. It can even be the opposite – reading something I consider sub-par by someone I think ought to know better. Sometimes it’s reading one too many reader’s comments on Amazon.com, or having a critical review sing my praises (or damn my faults).

Whatever causes it, what happens is that I find myself having trouble starting because I want every word to be professional from the get-go. I get seized by a preemptive stupidity strike – that is, I declare every idea I have to be dorky before I even think them.

Usually, I wait it out. I take a break from writing until my internal editor deflates back to its more reasonable size. I’ve never actually come up with a successful way to combat my internal editor/critic, other than ignoring the deadlined project for a week or so and writing something silly and fun. (Although lately, I’ve even been stymied in attempts to write complete fluff -- which may be, in fact, the root of my particular problem right now.) But, rather than delve deeper into my own psychosis, I’m curious. Does this ever happen to you and what do you do about it?


Anonymous said...

To try and turn around a short story a week this summer, what worked pretty well was:

1) when really blocked, finding some mythic or fairy tale or psychological theory that was relevant and researching it, seeing what mental doors it opened up, and seeing if the dramatic movement inherent in it was useful to structure the story.

2) starting with the protagonist and doodling about what they want, need, fear - all that character crap. That's most like pulling teeth to me, but eventually works.

3) Dipping in the big toe- starting with just the first scene and really planning it out in every possible way before 'actually writing' it - listing setting details, making sure the setting will contrast with the action and changing it if necessary; working out the conflict arc in the scene, what the text and subtext of dialogue need to be, etc. Wonky displacement of anxiety...

What worked in helping someone else come up with a last-minute story after several failed starts was the 'oyster' theory of inspiration - finding some story hook that irritates you enough to spur you to jus thave to write whatever it is you need to write, like a fiery demon hopefully.


Kelly Swails said...

It's only happened to me once (so far). When I got the invitation for the DAW anthology, I froze. "What if the editor doesn't like it? Should I curse in my story? Should I do X or Z?" What helped be was to just say, "Fuck it. If the editor doesn't like it she won't take it, and I'll be in the same boat I'm in now."

This obviously won't work for you. Sorry. :)

Anonymous said...

I think you should deliberately torture your Internal Editor until she curls up in the fetal position and whimpers. Write something short that really (intentionally) sucks. If you can suck enough, 300 words or so might do it. ;)


Tim Susman said...

A little late to the party (long week), but this might help: when my editor is making actual writing arduous, I take a break and think about the story as a movie, without actual words being involved. What happens next, and how would it look on the screen? Where would the characters go from there? In the visual world, my internal editor is powerless--at first he seethes at this, but hopefully he gets drawn into the movie and then will grudgingly allow me to write it.

sexy said...