Writers are constantly told to turn off the inner editor. But there was a time when I didn’t want to. I liked working a sentence until it was almost perfect. I felt like it made the revision stage shorter and easier. All I had to do was read through it once just to make sure I didn’t miss anything because I had already spent hours as I wrote making each and every sentence as perfect as I could. In my mind, I couldn’t move on when I hadn’t finished and perfected what I’d started. How would I know what to write next if I didn’t even know the final version of what I was currently writing?
But, in a way, that was the exact reason I needed to keep writing. We don’t always know what will come next. Writing helps us get there.
It’s still something I struggle with constantly, but I’m trying to train myself to turn off that inner editor. And when I do, I write faster and am more effective with my time. I’ve learned that a thorough revision process is invaluable. It’s a lot better and more efficient than revising as you go.
I’d waste so much time revising sentences I didn’t end up keeping, or trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say but that wasn’t always clear until I’d finished a draft.
So, to help me turn off my inner editor there are a few tricks I find helpful. Some of them may not work for you, but you’ll never know unless you give them a try.
How to Turn Off the Inner Editor
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Setting a Timer
I don’t do this often because I think the pressure of constantly writing with a timer would drive me crazy. But if I need to get an idea out yet I find myself constantly going back over what I’ve already written or I don’t have much time, I’ll set a timer for 10-20 minutes. And I’ll make it a game or competition to see how many words I can write in that time span. This helps me focus on moving forward and not worrying about the mechanics. Once I have the whole idea, however poorly written out, it’s a lot easier to go back and revise.
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Ignoring Punctuation
Focus on getting the idea out of your head and onto paper or your computer. Even if you know where punctuation goes, don’t distract your mind with a second task. While drafting, I do end my sentences with periods and type the occasional comma because my brain adds it without thinking. But if I have to think about it, I tend to skip it and move on. If I am mid sentence and I realize I need a comma or the previous sentence should have ended with a question mark, I don’t go back and fix it. I wait until I’m in revision.
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Not Fixing Spelling
Same with punctuation, don’t worry about spelling. Whether it is a word you don’t know how to spell, or you accidentally type to fast and misspell a word you know, fight the urge to fix it. Come back and fix it during revision. Always revising spelling will slow you down and make you lose your place and sometimes even your thought.
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Not Pressing Backspace
This is probably the hardest one to do, but it is so rewarding. Don’t press the backspace button. If you misspell a word or forget punctuation you know you need, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it yet. You can fix it later. Fixing it later will be a much more valuable use of your time than constantly hitting backspace.
Of course, if something is really bothering you, or you’re not sure you will remember what it is supposed to say go ahead and fix it. Allow yourself some backspace fiddling. But remember that obsessively hitting backspace will distract your mind from what you are currently focusing on. Having two tasks to focus on, writing your story and editing for spelling and punctuation, will divide your brain power and neither task will be as effective because you aren’t giving either your all. And if you are constantly hitting backspace, nothing will get done.
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Writing by Hand
If you write by hand you’ll be much less tempted to edit. Since it’s a lot harder to edit when writing with pen and paper, you won’t feel as strong of an urge to edit. You can cross words out of course, but it’s not like you can keep revising a sentence over and over. At least not as easily as you can on a computer. It’s a lot easier to tell yourself to move on and fix something later.
Writing a whole novel by hand works for many people, but not everyone. Still, this can be a valuable practice for a scene you keep editing or to get you into the mindset of turning off the inner editor.
Turn Off the Inner Editor by Saying a Mantra
If you find yourself constantly revising instead of writing, repeat an encouraging phrase in your head. Something like “don’t hit backspace” or “fix it later” or as Anne Lamott says using a different choice word, “this is my crapy first draft.” Tell yourself whatever you have to if it helps you turn off that inner editor and write more productively.
Training yourself to turn off the inner editor will increase your word count. You’ll get through your story faster and then be able to go back and edit to perfection what is working and more easily trash what isn’t working. Since you haven’t invested as much time into editing the parts that end up getting deleted, they should be easier to cut.
How do you turn off the inner editor?