It’s been a fortnight of high emotional charge for me – we’ve moved house, paid off the lion’s share of our debts, but I also found out that my beloved Dad is going in for a triple bypass surgery and may need to go on kidney dialysis, and I have severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which requires surgery (not the best thing for a writer). My creative well has been a little dry, and I’ve had the most frustrating time with writing. I’ve been really slowly chipping away at my story The Marquess and the May Flower for weeks now, but it refuses to play with me.
Then yesterday I realised I had fallen for the oldest trick in the book: Editing as you Go.
I’ve written the first thousand words of this story several times, edited them, edited them again, decided they were not right, started again, dropped some of that, brought some of the original material back in, rewritten the same paragraph over and over, and taken hours over a single paragraph.
What was I doing wrong? I was listening to my inner editor. All writers have one of these little ear gremlins. I’m pretty sure they live in everyone’s head, dormant until the person decides they are going to do something creative, then they are awoken from their hibernation to wreak havoc on the person’s artistic endeavour. For me, she is the nasty version of myself who lives inside my head and who tells me, “You can’t do this. You can’t write a good story. You simply don’t have the talent. Everything you write is garbage. You might as well give up now before you embarrass yourself.”
Yeah, she’s pretty much a bitch. Most inner editors are. But what she and I had both forgotten were the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway:
There are very few writers who can dash off a story, breeze it off to their editor, and then go and blithely have their nails done. Firstly, authors don’t have nails. We chew them off in frustration. Secondly, a first draft is just that – the First of Many Drafts. The first draft that goes to the editor is actually usually the third, or fourth, or fifth draft.
How do I fix the personality clash I have with my inner editor? Well, there’s only one way to get rid of a bully – I had to kill her.
Sadly, I couldn’t kill her. (I would have, but she’s not actually a corporeal being, she’s just a voice in my head.)
No, all I can do is push her annoying snarky voice to the back of my mind and concentrate on getting the words on the paper. Music and timed writing sprints. You gotta try it. Music, because it pushes all of the negative energies out of your mind, and timed sprints, because you surprise yourself with just how much you can write when you sit down, headphones on, and just write, with no outside influences.
I try to write for 20 minutes at a time (by then I have the uncomfortable tingly goodness that comes with Carpal Tunnel.) A couple or three of 20-minute sessions a day can net me a good 1800 to 2000 words over a day. And I only need to do that for a week to have a short story written, a month for a novella, and two months for a novel. And without allowing that inner biatch room to gripe and grizzle, I can write those words that have every author reaching for the champagne (or alcohol of their choice) – The End.
It’s not really the end. There are still edits and rewrites, and the inner editor gets her day. But she doesn’t get it during the First Draft of Many. That’s the kicker.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some sprinting to do.
(Puts on headphones)