Banish the editor

This is Ernest Hemingway.  Now, look in a mirror.  That's you.  Questions?

This is Ernest Hemingway. Now, look in a mirror. That’s you. Questions?

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m going to repeat myself:  I write this blog as much for me as for you.

I’m really not trying to be flippant.  The fact is, it’s often easier to recommend and even teach certain techniques than it is to put them into action.  I need to be reminded.  A lot.

That’s certainly the case with today’s subject, chosen for my fellow writers and creativity enthusiasts —  banishing your internal editor.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I have a tendency to try to write things perfectly in the first draft.  (I can feel myself doing it right now.)  When I finish a story to my satisfaction, I like the idea that I can turn it in immediately without much revision at all.

This is stupid.  Don’t do this.

In its best, most creative form, writing is a sloppy business.  Sentence construction is suspect, paragraphs are too long, spelling is atrocious, and grammar is unforgivable.

But that’s OK.  In fact, it’s perfect.

Writing a first draft of anything should have nothing to do with good grammar, sentence construction, or anything else that your Freshman Composition instructor would be happy with.  Writing a first draft is about creativity.  It’s about letting the romper room of overly-caffeinated thoughts in your brain rush down your neck, divert out your arms, and explode from your fingertips until the pounding of the computer keys sound like the cadence of the natives’ drums in some bad Tarzan movie.  The faster, the better.  Don’t spend a bunch of time agonizing over each sentence.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Lean closer to your computer so you can hear me.

We all suck.

It’s true!  As creative writers, all of us are operating at varying levels of suckiness.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some of you are insanely talented writers, but none of us are the Hemingways we think we are as we spend two hours trying to choose between the words “voluminous” and “copious.”  However, the more we write, the less we suck, so our goal should be to write more.

Trying to write perfectly — especially in the first draft — results in only one thing:  your frustration.  Instead of rushing toward a satisfying conclusion to your story — one that can be tweaked, polished, and spiffed up in the editing process — you find yourself wearing lead shoes in one of those dream tunnels that keeps getting longer and longer.  The story wants to be written and is straining at the leash, but as the author, you keep yanking it back in pursuit of perfection right out of the gate.

Banish your internal editor.  Rudely show him the door and fling out his impertinent red markers as well.  The first draft is supposed to be an epic party, and your internal editor is a boorish, high-school chaperone.  Invite all your craziest, most reckless thoughts to the first draft.  You know, the ones who initiate drunk Twister and end up passed out in the bathtub wearing a lopsided Sharpie mustache.  These are the guys you want, because they’re not trying to impress anyone.

There should never be a filter between an idea and the process of its expression.

Once you have exhausted your creativity and that party in your brain has resulted in the deranged and unexpected pairings of known elements to create new ideas, you can welcome back your editor with open arms.  He will roll up his sleeves, survey the room with mock disgust, and have at it.

And you, my reckless friend, will have a better byline than you expected.

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3 Responses to “Banish the editor”

  1. Dennis Ritchie says:

    Great stuff! My fingers are exploding. There’s a strange idea in my bathtub. I had to laugh! Brain research shows we can only really think one thing at a time – create or edit – your choice.

  2. Holly says:

    Love this! Now, if you’d only listen to your own advice. . .

  3. jeff says:

    “There should never be a filter between an idea and the process of its expression.”

    Hear! Hear!

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