You know the voice.
No, not the one that is critiqued by Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
It is that evil, little voice in the back of your head. You know, the one that sounds like Regina George or any of the Heathers. It says things like:
“Who are you kidding? You will never be a writer.”
“This passage is terrible. Everyone will laugh at how lame it is.”
“This character is awful. The critics will savage her.”
“All your ideas are stupid. None of them are worth pursuing.”
It might even be a little more benign than that. It might sound a bit more like Buffy’s mom or the people on What Not to Wear.
“Are you sure that sentence is good? You might want to rewrite it.”
“If you just rewrite the first paragraph before you continuing writing, the rest of the work will be great.”
“Are you sure you want this chapter? Spend a few hours staring at it, and you will come up with a solution.”
Ignore the voices!
Okay, easier said than done, right?
Before I give you a few tips to get those voices to shut up faster than Darth Vader silences his enemies, let me underline the importance of not listening to those voices.
Those voices, besides being mean and terrible, are not helpful when writing a first draft. Okay, the first set of voices are never helpful. But the second set of voices are really great during the editing stage.
The editing stage has to be kept apart from the writing stage. Basically, if you let your inner editor loose during your first draft, expect the results to be similar to that of letting Cookie Monster loose on your cookies. In short, you will be left with nothing.
Why is this? First of all, editing and writing are done in literally different parts of the brain, so you are taxing your brain going back and forth between the left and right hemispheres. Best to stick to one side at a time.
Another problem? If you are obsessing about the first paragraph of your novel, you will not have time to actually write the rest. Everyone knows that person who has not finished a novel, even though he has been working on it for years. Why? He keeps revising the first chapter. Don’t be that guy.
Finally, you might completely delete whatever you are currently obsessively revising. It is not unheard of for authors to toss whole chapters after finishing the novel. Revising a chapter that you might delete is a bigger waste of time than reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (Yes, I said it.)
What is the solution to drowning out the inner editor? Well, unlike college, you cannot just use headphones to mask unpleasant noises. Here is a list of suggestions to shut out the negative voices when you are writing a rough draft:
- Hire an editor. It helps to know it is someone else’s job to edit your work. If the voice acts up, you can just say, “Don’t worry; Sarah has this taken care of.”
- Get up and dance! You may or may not want to play Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” as you do it. Physical activity helps you get out of your head and puts you in a positive place.
- Don’t read your work. I have a rule where I don’t reread my work until I am done writing my draft. It is hard to edit something if you are not reading it!
- Write when you are sleepy (aka first thing in the morning). Your inner editor is too sleepy to complain then.
- Read nice things people have said about your writing (or you). It is hard to buy into the voice if you are drowning it out with positive words!
How about you? What do you do to quiet the negative voices? Tell me in the comments below!