Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Fricassee

You know that "inner editor" thing--the one you can't seem to turn off when you're supposedly reading for pleasure?

Yeah, that.  It encroaches upon my life on a regular basis.  This never happened before I decided to write seriously--I was actually able to read a book and not be bothered by (or notice, for that matter), the odd typographical error or misspelling.  Reading was, well, pleasurable.

Oh, how things have changed.  I find myself silently editing everything from directions on a web page to the latest YA novel on my lap to --gasp-- the Bible.  I'm sure this has increased exponentially because I'm now freelance editing, so a lot of my reading is supposed to be nitpicky and problem-findy.

It's just--how do you turn it off?

And, of course, the editing monster really rears its anal retentive head whenever I'm drafting or revising.  I know there are many writers out there who adore the unfettered freedom of spilling out their souls during a draft, without worrying about much of anything.  Because, that's what revisions are for, right?  But me? I've got to craft every sentence.  Hear every line of dialogue naturally and believably in my head before I'll move on from it.

And yes, I draft this way.  I still get my 1000 words a day (which is one first draft in about 3 months).  And I revise this way (under normal circumstances, a hefty revision takes me about a month).  So it's not like I don't get my work done.  It's just...ponderous.  Not at all spew-guts-and-clean-up-later.

I'm fine with that--it's the way I am.  It's just that sometimes I wonder how it would feel to not be this way.  To be able to sit down and let it flow.

(Funny.  I don't have any problem with nonfiction.  It flows.  Blogging is effortless.  But fiction is another story.)

Recently, I posted on Facebook about how hard it is to write stories (because, yanno, the Muggles need to know this, right?)  I mentioned that, for me, words come easily, but writing the actual story (plotting, logic, etc.) is much harder.

And a friend of mine who is a life-long piano teacher (and who knows that I am also a pianist), said this in response:

That comes from years of piano practice -- you know it can always be better.

Her words struck me, because I believe she's absolutely right.  I've studied the piano since the age of 6.  I majored in it at college, where I spent hours and hours perfecting my repertoire.  And at the end of the day, it could always be better.

That sounds sort of hopeless, but it's not.  You see, in those 4 years of college, my piano skills grew beyond measure.  I came in as a floundering freshman who was a bit behind on her technique, and ended up reaching a height of musicality and proficiency that I had barely dreamed of.

Not perfect.  Always room for improvement.  But so much growth.

So, yeah, it can be exhausting to be so attuned to every detail of my work.  And I'm sure that drafting would feel almost effortless if I could let go of my intense word-crafting.  But when I look back over the past several years and see how much I've grown as a writer, I'm glad for the way things are.  Because, clearly, it's working for me.

What about you?  Does your internal editor drive you crazy when you read?  When you write?  Or are you able to let it all go and simply throw yourself into a maelstrom of words that you figure you'll fix later?

Share!  Part of growing is learning how others do things.  And you know how much I love hearing from you.

Have a glorious weekend!


  1. I'm somewhere in between where you are and people who can just spew out a first draft. I can usually draft about the first 20k words pretty easily. And then I always have to stop and go back and revise. My brain just won't let me get past this point if there are flaws. And I'm not just talking about grammatical issues, but substantiative. So I revise and revise until I feel the beginning of the story has a sound foundation, and then I can finish up the draft no problem.
    But, I used to get so frustrated about why I couldn't just spurt out a first draft. But once I figured out how my drafting brain works, it hasn't been a problem since.
    Great post!

  2. I do have the same problem when reading for pleasure and have had to give up a couple of authors I grew up loving because it takes at least 50 pages for me to turn off the internal editor and get into the story. It's just too much work, and that makes me sad because I can't love them the way I used to.

    It's funny you mentioned the Bible. I've been studying Ezekiel recently and had an opposite experience where I thought, "Man, God is the ultimate writer!" Check out Ezekiel 16. It's quite a graphic metaphor but it gets the point across.

    As for how I write, I tend to do things quickly and then have to make myself slow down and be patient. It's been my downfall before. I'm forcing myself to take things slowly with my current manuscript so I don't jump the gun. We'll see how it goes!

  3. My inner editor is an absolute tyrant. I used to pick up a book and read it to the end without problem. The story was enough to keep me going. I might have rolled my eyes at some irritating passage, or awkwardly worded sentence, but I soldiered on. Now, if I encounter sloppy writing, I put the book down. I simply can't get engrossed in the story no matter how intriguing the premise.

    This is why editors and agents (and their assistants) can read a few paragraphs and tell immediately if an author's writing is ready for prime time.

    I cringe when I look back at some of my early stuff. It's so far from being ready for publication, even I can't stand to read it.

    Like most things in life, my internal editor is a two-edged sword. It can dampen my pleasure but it also makes me a more discerning writer. Yet, when I find an interesting story told in an excellent way my internal editor shuts up and gets swept along with me.

  4. Yes, I can't easily turn the inner editor off when reading for pleasure, either. But I am not sure that's a bad thing. Reading a book right now by a small independent press and can't help but keep rolling my eyes at the punctation errors, rough prose, missing beats and tags, and overdone setting descriptions I keep seeing, chapter after chapter.

  5. My inner editor is crazy!! Like you, I still manage a decent writing speed (~1500 words/hour) but each sentence is carefully crafted. I've heard there are people who love the editing and those who love the writing. I'm the latter. I love picking the perfect words...I hate doing it later.

    I've never had that experience with the Bible, but I'll read bestsellers and think about how this chapter has too much exposition, that dialog is a bit stunted, that sentence is unnecessary, etc. I think (and hope) that this psycho-book-analysis makes me a better writer...

  6. I was an English major 30 years ago. And boy did I love to delve into the arcane mysteries of Ulysses and stuff like that.

    Nowadays, writing middle grade fiction, I can barely tolerate most adult books (especially those written some years back.) I recently tried Under the Volcano, and could not get beyond the first twenty pages. I want a story first, and good, clean prose--not artistic meanderings. [Apologies if Under the Volcano is your favorite novel.]

    I am like you as a writer, too. I can't let it all gush out willy-nilly.

    Finally, is there no end to your artistic talents, Authoress. Piano, ballet, and writing. You are what they call a triple threat.

    Have a great weekend, doing all the creative things you love.

  7. It's taken years of practice but the internal,and infernal, editor doesn't rear it's ugly head when I write first drafts anymore. What helped with this? NaNoWriMo! I realized real quick that there's no way I could accomplish a goal like that without telling the editor to take a hike. Now reading on the other hand... Well the editor is annoying as always when I read. Don't know how to stop that.

    1. And... The editor just noticed I wrote it's instead of its. *sigh*

  8. This doesn't happen just too much when I'm reading. I have the random, "why did they write it like that, it's annoying" moments, but for the most part, if the book is well written overall I just immerse myself in it.

    Writing is different. I can tell you what would happen if you just let go and wrote without editing. You'd have a mess on your hands. I tried it last August as an experiment. I got done in a third of the time, but it took twice as long to edit and now I hate the story. Editing is almost relaxing for me because the really hard stuff is done. :) So, I much rather keep things the way they are. I'm more satisfied with the story this way and at the end of the day I spend just as much time on it and it's a lot less stressful.

  9. krystal jane --

    You said, "Editing is almost relaxing for me because the really hard stuff is done. "

    That's it EXACTLY! Drafting is the hardest part for me, so even when I'm faced with a daunting revision, it feels so much better than drafting. Almost relaxing, like you said!

  10. I'm so relieved to read this blog! I've been having a difficult time reading anything for the past couple of years because my internal editor is always online. I had to stick to my favourite authors to reignite my love of reading.

    I tend to edit while writing first drafts although NaNoWriMo taught me I could do it without the simultaneous editing.

    I don't know which way I prefer. I alternate depending on the length and genre of each piece now.

  11. Authoress, this may be your next calling: professional editor!! (not that you aren't already doing some of that) :)

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  13. Like most of you, my internal editor doesn't ever shut off - when I'm reading other books or writing my own stories. Just ask my hubby - my perfectionism always rears its ugly head when writing/revising one of my travel guides, and even composing an email to a friend takes me longer than it should. ;-)

    But, as Liz said, "I think (and hope) this psycho-book-analysis makes me a better writer..." And also, I do find that, while I will often stumble (irritatingly) over typos and other issues in published books, I do have the ability to get over it - if, that is, I'm really enjoying the story!

  14. I used to ponder each word then I did NaNoWriMo and got into the habit of spewing out words and never looking back. The trouble with this is that I don't want to revise it. I prefer to revise as I go, sort of in between NaNo and pondering. I write, revise, write more, revise again and so on. I do go back and fill in the details I might've missed and take out dead weight/passive words but my first drafts are cleaner this way.

  15. I forgot to say that when I read I used to read "fluff" books but now I can't. Not when I read gorgeous writing like in Daughter of Smoke and Bone or Shadow and Bone. I have to be hooked right away or I can't finish it. I don't let typo's bother me, even HP had some.

  16. The first essays I posted on the blog page on my website were about this very topic, so it's something I've thought about quite a bit! If you read those essays, you'll see that although I stress that each writer has to figure out what works best for them, I'm a big proponent of locking the editor out of the room while the muse does her stuff. ;)

    In short, I find it more productive in the long run to get the entire story down quickly, and to allow the creative process as much freedom as possible. When you come back to it later, you can then work like a sculptor or a gem cutter who trims away everything obscuring the true beauty of the raw material.

    Another advantage I find in this method is that because the two phases use different parts of your brain, there's less of a struggle involved at any point when you're not trying to get the two to work side by side. And with practice you get to where both phases are loads of fun -- though I think the best part is revising, especially when it's just polishing and tweaking things; I find that so addictive I could do it all day long and never get tired of it!

    When it comes to reading for pleasure, my internal editor is definitely sitting with me, which means I can't tolerate anything that isn't well-crafted and free of errors. But that's fine by me -- I'd rather spend my reading time with books that feature fantastic writing anyway. :)

  17. My internal editor never goes off either. I have a hard time if I see a typo in a novel. When I write, I have to intentionally keep plugging through the draft even though my internal editor wants to take over. I just insert notes in my MS to overcome my OCD tendencies: (fix) or (emo) or (body lang) or (sensory).

    It's a method that keeps me moving forward, because I could spend lots of time tweaking it to "perfection" and not get anywhere!

  18. Oh, the LOLs in this. Yes, my wee inner-editor likes to pop up when I read for pleasure. Not too often, but she does. Now, during The Day Job? That's another story. In fact, just last week, I sat in on a department restructuring meeting complete with powerpoint and some VIP execs. The gentleman leading the meeting, a very intelligent man in our commercial trade group, created the powerpoint. Silly me missed probably close to 15-20 minutes of his hour long powerpoint meeting due to the fact I kept trying to correct the boo-boos on the big, illuminated screen. I'm far from perfect in my word crafting, so some of the errors were pretty big, you see. In the end, I only got the gist of the discussion and did my best to ignore the unruly commas, the wordy sentences, and the "then" instead of "than" infractions. LOLOLOL *le sigh*

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