Your inner editor is crushing your writing; here’s how to stop it

I know exactly what’s keeping you from being the best writer you can be. I know because it’s the same for every writer I’ve ever known. Including myself.

The top barrier to the best writing you have in you is this: You are trying to write and edit at the same time.

And that makes you less effective at both.

Here’s what I mean: Good writing is produced by two very different processes working together: Writing and editing.

Writing is creative, innovative, exuberant, and messy. It is your best thinking finding its way toward clear and strong expression. It likely contains bad logic, incorrect facts, grammar errors, and misspellings.

All that mess is okay, because you are going to go back later and clean it all up it in the editing stage.

But we all are tempted to write and edit simultaneously. It feels like it’s saving time. But the moment you mingle writing and editing, you guarantee less effective writing.

Here’s an example: You’re writing an important year-end fundraising campaign. You’re typing along at top speed. It’s going well. Your ideas are flowing.

Then you notice a few words back you typed teh instead of the. “I’d better fix that,” you say, so you backspace to the typo and correct it.

I know it doesn’t seem like it, but big mistake.

What you’ve done is turn off your writing spigot and turned on your editing spigot. You’ve stopped using your creative brain and started using your rational brain. You are now far less creative, innovative, and open-minded than you were just a second ago.

In this tiny example, you may be able to switch back. Or maybe not.

And it’s often more serious:

  • “That sentence is too long. I need to recast it.”
  • “Oops, bad grammar. Better edit it, quick.”
  • ”I’m not sure about that fact; better do some research.”

Those kinds of things really derail your creative train.

And it’s not just you.

All writers do this.

It’s something we have to actively fight, all the time.

Here’s some practical help from the Publication Coach Blog, at 7 surprising ways to silence your inner editor:

  1. Don’t look at your writing. Find a way to make what you just wrote invisible until you’re ready to edit. Like a distraction-free word processor that scrolls what you type off the screen as you go.
  2. Get it down first; get it right later. Plan to separate writing from editing. Spend a specified amount of time writing, followed by a specified time on editing. These times could be anywhere from half an hour to a full day, or even a week. But just be sure you are planning to separate the two parts of effective writing from each other.
  3. Acknowledge the existence of your inner editor. You can’t get rid of your inner editor. You don’t want to, because it’s necessary. So when you feel that bossy editing bubbling up while you’re trying to write, remind yourself that you’ll get to it later. I often will write a note in the copy I’m writing that says something like “?better word?” — rather than actually look for the better word.
  4. Talk to yourself better. Talk to yourself in third person (he/she) or second person (you) rather than the natural first person (I). This will help create a little more distance between your inner writer and inner editor.
  5. Identify your fear. Your inner editor is trying hard to keep you from messing up. It is driven by your fear that in the end, you will mess up in some huge way. So just take a few minutes to put in writing what scares you about this piece of writing. That will turn it from a terrifying half-glimpsed shadow to the unlikely ridiculous thought that it really is.
  6. Increase your pressure. Force yourself to write as quickly as possible. Setting a timer is the easy way to do this. A more extreme way is to use a tool called Write or Die, an app that forces you to write without stopping. In its most extreme version, it starts deleting what you’ve written if you stop typing. (That’s way too much pressure for me!)
  7. But also, decrease your pressure. If you think your inner editor isn’t good enough, go ahead and outsource editing to skilled professional humans. That’s okay!


Comments

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog