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The ‘Editor’ Strikes Back

March 7, 2012

The Inner Editor, that is. And for this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support group, I would like to introduce my own Inner  Demon Editor.

I used to think that since my Muse—despite his disturbing affinity for black eyeliner— is a man, that my Inner Editor would be a man as well. Sometimes I even imagined I could hear his voice—the voice of that ex-boyfriend who always warned me I would get fat if I ate the last piece of pizza he had his eye on.

But, as I thought about it some more, I realized that my Inner Editor is a woman. A beautiful woman, in fact. One that knows how to dress, and wears designer suits in a size 2. Her hair is always perfect too, always impeccably styled, sometimes twisted up in one of those sexy chignons. Her make-up is shiny in all the right places, matte where she needs to hide any imperfections—not that she has any of those. Her matching jewelry sparkles when she waves her hands around, and her rings catch the light as she points out my shortcomings.

Of course, I want to be just like her. I want to be her friend so she can tell me where she gets those great
suits, and have her show me how to put my make-up on so that it doesn’t melt the minute I step out the door. I want her to tell me where she gets those fantastic shoes.

At the same time, I know that I will never be as perfect as she is. Even if I get my hands on one of the suits, and shimmy into that pencil skirt, I will certainly spill tomato sauce on it the instant I sit down to eat lunch. My skin is way too blotchy to pull off that red lipstick. And my hair pretty much does whatever it feels like doing, depending on the weather, and so can’t be counted on to conform to any rigid style I might have in mind for it.

Most of the time when I’m trying to kick out some first draft, the Inner Editor behaves herself, and goes quietly about her business of correcting spelling and dialogue punctuation. She’s seen what the unrestrained Muse is capable of, and knows to stay out of his way.

It’s when I’m revising that she gets out of hand.

A few weeks ago she made a particularly snide comment. In my efforts to revise my first novel, I’m taking an online class, called, not surprisingly, How to Revise Your Novel. It’s a great class, but it’s a good thing the course is self-paced because I am taking my sweet time getting through it. In fact, the title of my blog is a reference to my frustration at going back and across and over every concept at least twice until I get it right.

As I was contemplating what it might feel like to actually be done with this course, taking three times as long as it should, and still not having the manuscript complete, because I have some ideas to make it much, much better, the Inner Editor informed me in her haughty voice,

“If you were taking this course in college, you’d be getting a failing grade.”

I promptly told her to keep it to herself, though I had to wonder why she would say something like that.

I thought about how strange it would be to get a grade for a course like this, where writers of all levels are working through the lessons at their own pace, and realized that what mattered more than any grade was how much knowledge I gained from it. Knowledge is hard to quantify, which is probably why it’s convenient to rely on measurements like page counts, scenes edited, or lessons completed, and why I search for something like a grade to prove I have made progress.

Grades and progress bars can be helpful in measuring achievement, but I think these need to be employed with caution–especially by insecure writers like me. Measurements like this give the Inner Editor a chance to bully me, and make me feel bad.

I don’t write to feel bad. I write because it’s fun!

Once I understood that, I patiently explained to the Inner Editor that I have made huge progress, but that, considering what I started with, getting this novel to be a better novel was going to be a long journey for me. She was welcome to come along, but she would have to resign herself to watching me mess up once in a while.

She sighed at that. But, apparently satisfied with the progress I’ve already made, she kicked off those fancy shoes, and leaned back on her black leather office chair in exasperation. We ordered a pizza, with everything on it–onions and pepperoni and extra sauce– for just the two of us.

Things were about to get a little messy.

What does your Inner Editor do to make you feel bad? How do you get him–or her–to cooperate?

For the Alex J. Cavanaugh Insecure Writer’s Group blog hop, follow this link.

  1. tashaseegmiller permalink
    March 7, 2012 9:49 am

    Sometimes it helps to take the mental image of the editor, shrink her down and put her in a mason jar. With the lid on. And tell her if she doesn’t play nice, you won’t poke in air holes.

    My inner editor is a librarian from New York, and she is a snarky little thing. I have to just move her away sometimes, but when I need her, she is the best pain in the butt ever.

    Good Luck!

    • March 7, 2012 4:56 pm

      Hi Tasha,
      It feels like such a love/hate relationship with that part of myself. I so want to be perfect, but the certainty that I never will be drives me nuts!
      It does help to personify that tendency, doesn’t it? A librarian, from New York, no less! Sounds like our inner editors have been in touch. 😉

  2. March 7, 2012 12:12 pm

    That’s one devil I don’t do battle with. I tend to follow my intuition. Mostly I trust the advice of my critique partners. My inner editor gets along much better with others than it does me. But I do think this is a universal struggle for all writers so you’re definitely not alone.

    • March 7, 2012 5:00 pm

      Lucky you!
      I would love to trust critique partners, but the editor refuses to let them see anything! I have met some awesome writers though, and let them have a peek or two. The inner editor likes how much the crits have helped the writing–so we’ll get there, someday. 🙂

  3. March 7, 2012 4:07 pm

    Your title made me smile:) Annnnd . . . can TOTALLy relate!

    • March 7, 2012 5:05 pm

      Thanks for all your encouragement, Jamie! 🙂
      Knowing that others feel this way makes it so much easier to work through! And, I have to say, blogging has really helped me with the whole ‘stage fright’ aspect of this gig.

  4. March 7, 2012 5:13 pm

    My inner editor likes to compare the words I’m writing for a first draft with polished, published fiction as I’m writing them, which can sometimes make the initial writing a stressful experience. I just try to think of the words as unshaped clay that I’m going to later mold into what it’s supposed to become during the revision phase, and that often helps.

    • March 8, 2012 6:36 am

      Hi Mike!
      I’m glad you stopped by. 🙂
      Yeah, it does help to remind myself that first draft words are just that. However my inner editor is always quick to point out that my words may never shine as brilliantly as those in the books I read.
      I think I need to start a file of things I’ve written that I’m proud of, to prove her wrong.

      • March 8, 2012 11:45 am

        Starting a file is not a bad idea. And maybe it would help us to remember that our inner editors can say stuff all the unhelpful stuff they want. That doesn’t mean they’re right, and we don’t have to believe them.

        • March 8, 2012 6:24 pm

          Maybe I’ll put part of that file up on my blog. 😉

  5. March 8, 2012 12:19 am

    With my muse on leave, my editor has free play, she is making me abandon four short ones and rewrite three. But she has a point, they are ones from two years back when I had just picked up my worn quill after a decade of silent papers.

    • March 8, 2012 6:42 am

      Oh no! Bring that Muse back home!
      It does surprise me how much I think my writing has improved, and that should be enough to silence Ms. Editor, but instead of abandoning stories she’s simply called for complete rewrites. There was something there that even she can’t deny is important.
      Maybe that’s the case in your stories too?

      Happy rewriting! 🙂

  6. March 8, 2012 9:50 am

    A facilitator at one of my writing groups called that voice The Underminer – that voice that is sometimes an aggregate of the voices of all the negative people we’ve encountered over our lives. She suggested dealing with it directly. If you let it fester in the background of your mind, it can really get in your way. Great post.

    • March 8, 2012 6:30 pm

      ‘an aggregate of the voices of all the negative people we’ve encountered over our lives…’

      Yes, thank you! That’s exactly it.
      I have a very good memory, which is good for being a writer, but bad if you’ve had people around who have better ideas for what you should be doing with your life.
      No festering for me anymore. 🙂

      And thanks for stopping by, Tonja!

  7. March 14, 2012 11:24 am

    hello again, Kirsten . . . wanted to let you know that I tagged you on my blog today:):)

    • March 15, 2012 11:27 pm

      That’s awesome fun. Great of you to think of me! Now I’m off to see what lurks on page 77 of my mss. Eeekk!

  8. March 15, 2012 7:14 pm

    I must be a freak. I enjoy editing. I find it easier than dealing with a blank page. I’d rather have a pile of stinking words to clean up than nothing at all. Let the crap flow.

    • March 15, 2012 11:30 pm

      Hi Roxanne!
      I know some writers who love to edit too. So you are not a freak, at least not when it comes editing. (wink)

      Thanks for visiting! 🙂

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