The editor lurking within


Silk’s Post #85 — Joe asked an important question in his last post: how do your get out of your head as a writer? He had a pretty decent answer to the question, too. But then, Joe isn’t you. And he isn’t me.

I have a terrible confession to make. In my heart of hearts, I harbour an editor. An editor who continually harasses my writer. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention that I have a lot of personas in there. There’s probably a diagnosis for that – Multiple Persona Disorder or something.

Maybe you have a few of these conflicting personas, too. No? You sure? Well, here’s something I know you have, and it can be just as paralyzing, or liberating: you have a left brain and a right brain. Ever wonder why we were designed that way? You should. We all should. It’s probably really important.

But back to the editor lurking within.

It’s just a good thing I never became a teacher. I probably would have scarred countless students for life, pointing out all their mistakes and deficiencies. It was bad enough that I had a 35 year career as a creative director, where the only people I critiqued (and critiqued and critiqued) were exceptional, professional designers and writers and art directors who had already developed healthy egos (quite healthy in some cases), despite their microscopically thin skins. I knew they were good (that’s why I hired them). They knew they were good. It was all good. I perhaps flatter myself thinking that I spurred them to be better than good with my nitpicking and inspirational pep talks.

But I couldn’t help it. It was that editor inside me. And now, most of the time she has nobody else to work on except … me. (And my 5writer friends, whose blog posts I admit to occasionally “cleaning up”, fixing capitalization errors and removing errant punctuation marks).

Here’s a statement I’ll probably regret making someday: editing is easy and writing is hard. I hope there are no editors reading this, but in case there are, let me amend that claim. Editing can be hellishly hard. But writing is harder by about 400 degrees Farenheit.

So when I get in that stuck state – that mental bog where you know you have to pull yourself out of your head before you get sucked down into the quicksand to die a horrible, plotless death – I have a surefire but ironic cure that works for me. And maybe for no one else in the world.

I find something to edit. Or even proofread. I focus on the easily recognizable, easily controllable minutae of writing and it clears my mind. It’s like washing windows or vacuuming or some other boring, zen-like household task. The process and rules are clear. It takes some concentration and some effort, just enough that you have to dismiss that irritating creative fly buzzing around in your head. And when you’re done, everything looks cleaner, tidier, better. More cared for. More cared about.

When I go back to what I’ve just written and fuss over it, the reason is often that I simply don’t have enough momentum going to get through the swamp that leads forward. So I go backwards and tweak. My editor within is pretty good at tweaking and, oddly, it puts me in a kind of meditative state.

While my left brain is obsessing about commas and nuanced turns of phrase, my right brain sneaks off to its room and locks the door. On a good day, it does the intellectual equivalent of smoking a joint, releasing my imagination and intuition, and exploring intriguing (if often illogical) connections, patterns and directions in my story world.

Of course, it doesn’t work every time. On a bad day, my right brain just sulks.

It’s on the sulky days that my left brain editor becomes a bit messianic, and then progress on my story can grind to a halt. Oh, I may write and write and write, but it goes nowhere. I can’t write anything very compelling from my left brain. Maybe nobody can. That’s just not the left brain’s job. But when my right brain is in a pet, the editor lurking within begins to get a little frantic. Do something! it thinks. So it tries to fill in for my imagination, and of course fails miserably and becomes frustrated.

Its time will come. Later. After the first draft.

Eventually, this “stuck” cycle comes to an end, although sometimes it takes a while. If you define “a while” as anything from a few hours to a few weeks. Maybe this is what people call “writer’s block”.

My “happy place” (I wish no one had ever invented that phrase, it’s such a crutch), is where my left brain and my right brain are in cosmic balance. Where my editor within tends to its disciplined business in my left brain, while my imagination and creativity roam my right brain at will, never giving a fig for punctuation or earth-bound logic, just skipping over swampy literary ground on sure, light cat’s feet.

I need them both, really. Even though I sometimes roll my eyes at my internal editor – or have to push back against it when it tries to take over and become a dictator during the dry spells when my imagination is AWOL. Truth be told, I actually have some affection for both personas.

So how do I get “out of my head” as a writer? That’s a pretty metaphysical question (says my right brain). It’s just a matter of discipline and good management (says my left brain).

My editor lurking within just copes with it by finding something to fix.


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