Writer or not, we all have an internal editor: the voice that makes you redraft your text messages, the feeling that you have to tone yourself down or ‘put on a face’, the doubt that tells you not to be silly or whimsical or immature. It’s the person who censors you and makes you curate and refine yourself for public consumption. Which is all good and well, and let’s be honest, we all need a little refinement now and then – but when it filters into your creative work, self-censorship becomes problematic.
It’s been rather a long time since I shared my last blog post, and I’ll level with you – I’ve been incredibly blocked. I sat down with a list of thirty post ideas and titles, and I couldn’t write a single damn one of them.
The thing is, it’s not like I’m not writing – it’s literally my job. My Grammarly app informed me that over the month of April I wrote, processed or checked over 150,000 words (which, if you’re a writer yourself, you know is roughly the contents of an epic fantasy novel). When I say I wasn’t writing, I don’t mean I stopped completely: I mean my creative fiction projects came to a standstill, and the non-fiction articles I wrote suddenly became an energy sinkhole.
It was only when I picked up Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg, 1986) that I started to realise what the problem was. One particular chapter resonated with me: Trouble with the Editor.
It is important to separate the creator and the editor or internal censor when you practice writing, so that the creator has free space to breathe, explore, and express. – Writing Down The Bones
Before I used to write things for people to read, my creator had no trouble running her mouth; fast-forward four years, and writing in brand voices, editing content and rewriting press releases has left my creator a little… well, mute.
I’ve become so used to writing about places I’ve never been that I don’t know where to start when writing about the ones I actually have visited. I have become a very good editor in the last two years: I can fix grammatical errors, rewrite lines, give them bounce and pace. I am perfectly clear on the connotations of language; which words to choose when and where. But in becoming a good editor I’ve quelled my creator and lost something of my ability to write in my own voice.
So how do you keep your editor quiet? How do you separate those voices out: the one that wants to express itself and the one that wants to censor that expression into something palatable?
Working in digital media means editing as you write, minimal time for redrafting, and a quick turn around of work. It means before I’ve even written a piece, I’m considering what elements need to be included for SEO, what layout is required for optimum reader experience, how many words or lines should be contained in a paragraph. Being a good digital writer is not the same thing as being a good writer, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
There’s a couple of changes I’ve made to my writing habit – minor ones, but that’s how habits are formed. The first is to write for 10 minutes every day. I set a timer, and I write, about anything: the couple drinking coffee across from me in the cafe, the shape of the water in the harbour, the way the sun feels at 33 degrees compared to 15… it doesn’t matter what. The rules are you can’t stop, and you can’t reread your work as you go.
I found that incredibly hard at the beginning: getting to the end of a sentence, and thinking, “Ooh, that would sound better if…” I forced myself to stop. I made myself keep writing. It became easier and writing without worry of how it looked or sounded brought ideas to the surface that hadn’t shown themselves for fear of that editorial censorship; for fear of being too big or too small for the page.
Another change I’ve made is to always write a draft, no matter how tempting it is to write it straight into the backend of a website. It takes longer, sure – but it means that I can write what I want to write, how I want to write, before the editor gets involved.
Writing Down The Bones got me writing again – not as an editor, but a writer, and it might sound silly, but there is a difference. Your writer rhymes ‘cat’ with ‘fret’ because they like the way it sounds; your editor makes you chop and conform to a tightly constructed Dr Seuss rhyme scheme. And sure, my editor always gets the last word – but as long as my writer gets the first, I’m working with good content from the start.