Battling Your Evil Editor

This week’s question is by Linda Apple:

Do you have that Evil Editor perched on your shoulder like a buzzard squawking at every word? How do you overcome trying to make the first draft perfect and just get the story written?

PAMELA:  When I sit at the computer there’s nothing but the character and me. I never second guess myself when I’m writing.  It’s only words.  If I don’t like what I’ve written the next day, so what?  That’s why they make that delete button.

However, I begin each day’s writing by going back over what I wrote the day before.  That gets me back into the character and it’s the first time I edit. That’s when I hear the voices of the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop.  The members live in my head and whisper encouragement and suggestions in my ear.

I cut and paste, chop the heads from prairie dogs (the use of the same word in close proximity), add a line or two, delete a paragraph here and there. Then I flip the switch on the voices and get on with the day’s new creation.

Once I walk away from the computer, I agonize over plot, argue with the direction the characters have taken, jot down descriptions or ideas that invade my head, generally make myself crazy second-guessing myself until I sit down to write again. But, once I start to write, that all goes away.  My writing process is like watching an internal movie.  All I do is put the story down on paper.

CLAIRE:   When I sit down to write, I pack a sling shot and a Glock. I have to kill that dastardly buzzard every morning. He perches on my shoulder and squawks every time I misuse a comma and/or split an infinitive. Once I get him silenced, I’m able to write, to get those words on the page. What I find most interesting is that while I’m writing, I can’t get my internal editor to shut up; however, when I’m actually in edit mode, the only thing I can think about is the next story. Seems I have an evil editor and a wicked writer battling in my head all the time.

JAN:  The blasted buzzards are swarming over in my part of the world. I mean, I’ve already re-typed that first sentence three times. The darn buzzards . . . no, wait . . . the dang buzzards . . . nope, erase that . . . the blasted buzzards. Yeah!  . . . are hovering . . . no, wait . . . flying. Damn, what’s that word I’m trying to think of . . .oh! Swarming – that’s it!

Obviously, that Evil Editor is about to devour me and my manuscript right along with me.

But, I recently found comfort in an article by Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. (See my Monday Mashup with a link to the article—oh, all right, I’ll give it to you here, too.) In her article, “My Life’s Sentences,” she states, “The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life.” When I write, every sentence is an art form, a puzzle to be solved, a story.

So, for me, it’s a long, slow process. But I love every bit of the struggle.

RUTH:  When I was a rookie writer I was obsessed with getting the first draft perfect.  Every word that Spell-check underlined had to be fixed on the spot, my new thesaurus took a beating, and I’d be stuck for endless minutes trying to think of a name for a character or town.  I’d sit for hours at the computer, my head pounding, my butt numb and still have only a few paragraphs to show for my effort.  Creativity ran and hid. My writing was forced, flat, and well . . . boring.

That’s when I learned my first huge lesson in writing: trust the voices in my head.  My characters were itching to tell their stories and were interesting and exciting enough on their own without me trying to make them so.  I ignored the misspellings, the repeated words, and put blanks when names and locations didn’t come to right away.  I just wrote.  That’s when the magic happened.   The story flowed.  The second lesson I learned?  Write first, edit second.

Of course when all else fails, I find the most excellent way to banish the Evil Editor is with a tall glass of Dr. Pepper mixed with a shot of Captain Morgan.

LINDA:  From the first day I decided to pick up the proverbial pen and become a writer, a dark shadow loomed in the room and landed on my shoulder like a buzzard. I called this tormenting feeling the “Evil Editor.”


Because this feeling made me question every word I typed. I worried about having that perfect opening sentence. I worried about grammar, sentence structure, using a word too many times, clichés, purple prose, weak characters, unrealistic dialogue, telling instead of showing. Well you get the idea.

These worries literally froze my mind. I’d type and retype the first paragraph for weeks! Sure, I knew to just write the story and fix it later. But no one told the editor on my shoulder.

It has taken years for me to get through my thick skull that writing is in layers. First layer are the bones of the story. Spit out the bones!

Second layer: put flesh on the bones! It is okay to have skinny parts and fatty parts. The next layer will make all things balanced. Flesh out the bones!

Third layer: add the muscle and shape the story up. This is my most recent discovery. Because I knew the ending, I put foreshadowing in the beginning. It really gave my story depth and interest. Give some curves to the story!

Fourth layer: Fine-tune the story. Find all the little blemishes and clear them up. Clean up the story!

The Evil Editor doesn’t like this approach. I can attest to the truth of this because she left my shoulder and went to someone else who has yet to discover that writing a novel is done in layers!

What do YOU do to tame that Evil Editor?