“Silencing” vs. “Shelving” Your Inner Editor

It’s that time of year again—the time when NaNoWriMo addicts set a goal, cozy up to our cabin mates, and block out the real world for the warmth of our figurative campfires. I’m talking, of course, about Camp NaNoWriMo—July edition!

Camp NaNoWriMo takes place twice per year and this is our second time around for 2014. So in the spirit of this frantic, exciting time, we’re going to address an idea that’s synonymous with NaNoWriMo: silencing your inner editor.

The point of NaNoWriMo is to quiet that little voice—the one that insists you fix that error, whether it be as small as a typo or as large and gaping as a major plot hole—before continuing on to the rest of your story. It’s a practice that’s helped many a writer muscle through the tangles of a first draft, despite the crippling desire to spend an entire month on page one alone. It helps a story form its barest foundation, to be bricked and mortared and painted later on in the process. However, there’s a problem that many critics of NaNoWriMo point to with this practice: silencing your inner editor can be a dangerous habit to get into.

For this reason, it’s best to think of this challenge as a time to shelve, rather than silence, that voice. Should you routinely silence your inner editor—which, it’s important to note, is different from the trash-talking bully we all possess that insists with zero supporting evidence that our work is garbage—you may get into the bad habit of not listening to it at any point. And since the inner editor is typically alerting you to a problem that does need to be addressed, whether in draft one or sixteen, this could be a damaging habit to get into.

Here are some instances in which shelving, rather than silencing, your inner editor can help you work your way through your first draft—without slowing you down:

1) You’re writing along when you realize your story could benefit from an extra transitional scene in between your last and your current. Silencing your inner editor by ignoring the instinct could cause you to miss a potential improvement to your story or forget about it altogether. Shelving it by making an immediate note in the document, to be addressed in revisions, will allow you to continue with your current flow without risking any omissions on your part later.

2) A major plot hole appears! You have two choices: silence your inner editor by shrugging it off and expecting to remember it later, or shelve it by making a note somewhere you know you won’t miss it—or directly into the text itself—and correcting your current flow to compensate.

3) Similarly, your characters seem to be out of character, and your inner editor perks up. You can silence it by continuing their character arcs as they are, or shelve it by starting to correct the issue in your current writing—not by going back and fixing what was already there. For example, if John and Jane were previously in a rocky relationship and the scene you’re writing seems to completely dismiss that, make note of that as soon as you notice the discrepancy and start introducing an element of tension that makes more sense given their situation. If the tension seems to spring out of nowhere upon a future read, you’ll have your note there to remind you why and point out what needs to be fixed.

Have you ever noticed a difference between silencing and shelving your inner editor? The former can create a bad habit of dismissing the savvy writer in us, while the latter gives us room to complete our stories while learning how to prioritize our tasks. There are exceptions to every rule, of course: you may find that some mistakes need immediate fixing, and that others are best left alone until revision time. Either way, always remember the difference between your inner editor and your inner bully, and learn how to tune into their voices accordingly!

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3 thoughts on ““Silencing” vs. “Shelving” Your Inner Editor

  1. Pingback: Making Up with My Inner Editor | Things by David Shank

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Post Mortem Part 1: What I’ve Learned – Lost Caws

  3. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Recap Part 2: The Road Ahead – Lost Caws

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