Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 21 Days

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What are the biggest obstacles to winning NaNoWriMo?

To me, the biggest one is time, which I talked about in yesterday’s blog post. The second biggest is an insidious, formless creature which exists only to foment doubt and make you question every single word you write. I’m talking, of course, about the beast that is your Inner Editor.

In his book No Plot? No Problem! the godfather of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty describes an Inner Editor as “The doubting self-critical voice that we all inherited around puberty as an unfortunate door prize for surviving childhood.” And while I agree with Mr. Baty’s description up to the word “inherited,” I’m pretty sure that those Inner Editors manifest a while before puberty.

In fact, a local teacher who is helping prepare a group of 8 to 10 year olds for the glorious disaster that is NaNoWriMo asked them about Inner Editors. Specifically, she asked them why they have an Inner Editor. The answers to that question were what you might expect, including variants of “It helps us be better writers,” and “it only wants us to be good at stuff,” and, most fantastically “I need my Inner Editor because being wrong is scary.”

The kids are right. Being wrong is scary. Nobody likes to be wrong, after all. And really NaNoWriMo itself is incredibly scary, 50,000 words is a big chunk of words to knock out in thirty days after all, and to do it without the safety net of an Inner Editor just makes it even trickier. However, you must banish that Inner Editor, as all it will do is sap your word count as you change, or worse still, delete entire passages of writing.

I’ve never been able to untether my Inner Editor from me, even during NaNo. I just can’t seem to resist the siren call of the backspace key, or the tantalizing possibilities of reading back what I wrote yesterday and figuring out how it can be better. Don’t do this! It’s just going to make 50,000 seem that much further away.

You have to send your Inner Editor away (I believe Baty used the metaphor of a boarding kennel in his book) or lock it up. The kids sent their Inner Editors on vacation to all sorts of places, including San Francisco, China & Virginia Beach. Having been to two of those places, I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy towards those Inner Editors, as I’d love to spend my November out in San Francisco.

I’m less kind. My Inner Editor is going to be spending November not on vacation, but in jail. Locked up before it can do any more damage to my manuscripts. Where is your Inner Editor going to spend their November?

The other thing the teacher had her group do was illustrate their Inner Editors, which, frankly, is a brilliant idea and seeing some of these responses:

  • Ninjas that around and hack up your paper when you’re not looking
  • Ghosts that whisper all your mistakes in your ear
  • Grandma (“she always tells me when I make a mistake”)
  • A squeaky mouse
  • An angel and devil on my shoulders
  • My own brain
  • A giant pencil poking in the ear telling them to fix their mistakes
  • A fart monster (“because it shows me how much my work stinks”)
  • A version of themselves with erasers for fingers to erase all their bad work

Make me want to start a “What form does your Inner Editor take?” thread on the nanowrimo.org forums. Not sure where it where it would go, so I’ll ask you, dear reader, to describe your Inner Editor in the comments.

For what it’s worth, mine looks a lot like one of the members of the Richmond WriMos group (not saying which one) who swings a baseball bat at me every time she sees something that could be written better.

(Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian)

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One thought on “Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 21 Days

  1. My inner editor is probably a jerk who a)won’t let me look directly at him and b)passes the time poking me in the back of the head from somewhere over my shoulder, not saying anything but injecting all the things that I should “stop and fix” straight into my mind. Pretty obnoxious.

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