Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Taming the Beast

Sorry to be late. Issues with Blogger prevented me from publishing this last night

Some of you may be intimately familiar with this beast. It’s called the Internal, or as I prefer to call her, Infernal Editor. It’s that voice in your head that screams “No! That’s an adverb!” And “You’re telling and not showing again.” Or “Oops! You popped out of the heroine’s POV. Get back in her head.”

One of the first pieces of advice I read was to turn the Infernal Editor off and just write. Don’t think about rules or adverbs or show versus tell or POV or anything else. Just plop your fanny in the chair, put your hands on the keyboard and tell the story.

Ha! Easy for them to say. They don’t have the Infernal Editor from hell. Sitting at my PC is like flashing a neon sign at her that reads “Open for business. Come criticize and harass me.

Someone suggested using an AlphaSmart since it doesn’t have a delete key and using the backspace key is a bit of trouble. So I got a used AlphaSmart and it’s sure a handy gadget, but the keyboard and tiny screen still beckoned to the IE and she appeared. She belittled what I wrote, hijacked the backspace key and generally impeded my progress.

Then one day I was out having lunch alone at the Target snack bar and an idea for a story began developing. I pulled a small notebook from my purse (writer’s tip of the day: always carry a small notebook for you never know when inspiration will strike) and started scribbling down words and then phrases and finally the opening paragraphs of the story. And… ssshhhh… don’t tell her… but the IE didn’t appear. She apparently was over in the lingerie section enthralled by the new shipment of red bras and panties.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and after I scribbled “The End” a few days later, I sat at the keyboard to transcribe the work into my word processor. Sure enough, true to form, she appeared, but this time she wasn’t quite so disruptive. The story was down in paper, albeit in a rough form, but as I typed IE gave me gentle suggestions about how to improve the story and where I needed to use dialogue rather than narrative. She was incredibly accurate about spots that didn’t work and proposed alternatives that were superb. After typing, I printed the document and IE and I read it over out loud, editing once more. When those edits were made on the computer document, the story was complete and ready for submission.

We all know that the Infernal Editor isn’t a separate entity. It’s YOU. Or rather, it’s me. It’s my brain wanting me to write the very best story I can. She really wants me to produce a top-notch piece of writing. Otherwise she’d stay at Target ogling the undies.

So what if I have a legal pad full of scribbling with footnotes and asterisks indicating spots where material is to be added? Who cares if there’s a big blank with a notation to Google the price of three-carat diamond rings or come up with a fictitious county in Texas? I’ve found the process that works for me (and the IE) and I’m sticking to it. It sure beats the year I sat helplessly (and hopelessly) in front of the computer monitor waiting for the words to flow. Strangely enough, she lets me write blogs on the PC. Maybe one day she’ll let me start writing first fiction drafts on the computer. But if not, at least I’m writing and having fun and enjoying every minute of this journey.

Do you have an Infernal Editor? Can you turn it off? Got any tips or tricks for everyone else?


Smarty Pants said...

My internal editor was sleeping during English class. She usually keeps her mouth shut while I write, letting me type whatever I want. When I go back and read, she might point out a few things, but overall, she's pretty laid back. That's a problem. I need her to shoot up flares when I use passive voice, head hop and repeat words over and over. Instead, Instigator reads over my stuff and can't launch fireworks fast enough.

IE and I are learning, though. After the last big round of edits on FE, I was successful in letting my repetitive errors sink into my head so I can pick them up myself while I'm reading. I'm sure Instigator will be pleased when the next batch of edits go out.


Kathy said...

My IE quickly rises from hell complete with show stopping fire and brimestone, (cue music from Fantasia). I know when it's coming, I hear it's heavy footsteps, the flap of it's wings, hear it breathing down my neck and feel it slobbering down my collar. It likes to harrass, torture, convince me that my work is pure fodder and only worthy of gracing the garbage dump. Like a timid babe, I listen. I cower. I fuss and fidget, edit, edit, edit.... until I want to cry.

I'm considering entering some contests but the darned thing heaves out an incenerating breath of disgust and convinces me otherwise.



Angel said...

Only do it when you feel ready because contests are both very helpful and very evil. Keep that in mind.

Oddly enough, handwriting the first draft has always been a part of my process. Probably because I CAN scribble, make notes in the margins, and such. It just makes that first draft (which I hate) somehow easier.

My internal editor doesn't really deal with the nitpicky details. I have a revision checklist for that. My internal editor is more of a worrier: Will this ever be good enough to get published? Unfortunately, she's a pessimist, like me. So I spend a lot of time in deep conversations with her saying everything I know I should. Maybe one day it will sink in.


Rhonda said...

I've learned that if I put my IE on a sugar high, she doesn't hound me as much. I just write it and then go back and look for glaring errors. And I layer in little things I've missed.

Word verification: PKOUAO

Somebody say that. :-)

Instigator said...

Hey, the only reason I notice those things is because someone attacked my work with a red pen first :-) so don't feel bad!(although I still can't manage commas no matter how much Angel and PC try to help).

My IE gets bored easily :-) I know that's surprising to everyone considering I have the attention span of a gnat. I have to edit in small chunks because otherwise she wanders off to play with the kitty or check out my closet for wardrobe holes. As for her presence during the first draft...she knows better than to show her face. She'll end up drowned in the bathtub along with a character or two.

My alphasmart does help during that first draft though. But what helps more is that when IE does make a peek-a-boo appearance I usually just jot myself a note in my file and plod on. I can fix whatever problem she pointed out later.


Problem Child said...

I'm one of those folks who edits as she goes along. I guess you could say that my IE and I have come to a compromise. No nit-picking (that's what my CP is for), but I do write/edit/write/edit.

I too have places in my ms that say "Look up flight times" "Is Texas Central time?" "Where does she live?" Being a pantser, I don't work all that out in the beginng--I look it up as I need it, usually after I've finished writing for the day.

Problem Child said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maven Linda Howard said...

I and my internal editor get along well; we're in sync. I edit as I go, like PC; I write in a zig-zag, back and forth, back and forth, so when I print out a chapter it's pretty much finished and I seldom have to go back into it. I don't want to turn off that IE; I want that part of my brain alert and functioning, spotting small things before they become large ones.

Did someone say "commas?" Instigator has issues with commas? Children, pay attention to me. PC, this means you, too. Forget your degree in English. Forget where commas should be, or shouldn't be.
PUNCTUTATION IS A TRAFFIC SIGNAL. Every book has its rhythm, its internal song, and you, the writer, are the singer of that song. With your use of punctuation, you are telling the reader when to pause, when to speed up; you are the orchestra leader. A comma means a slight pause; a semi-colon indicates a longer pause, a sharper break. A period is a complete stop. Listen to that song in your head, and the correct punctuation will flow. Notice I didn't say the PROPER punctuation, I said the correct punctuation, because what you're looking for now is that rhythm, that flow. I don't give a damn what the house style says, or the grammar books. My punctuation is inviolate, because I'm the singer of the song and I feel how it should flow. Whether I use a comma or a semi-colon indicates the speed at which I want the reader to absorb that song.

Listen to the song. That's all. Just listen to the song.

Smarty Pants said...

I feel liberated, Linda!

Instigator said...

WooHoo!! Linda said I could stop worrying about commas. :-)

Okay, not really but that definitely frees me up to listen to myself and the story and not worry about the rules. Although, I have to confess that that's been the problem all along. I don't know the rules :-)


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