Thursday, October 15, 2009

Loving Your Inner Editor

By Beth Terrell

November is approaching, and with it comes National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). More than 100,000 people from all over the world will write a 50,000-word first draft of a novel between 12:01 A.M. November 1 and midnight of November 30. The writers range from teenagers to octogenarians. Some are professional authors who will later edit their NaNo novels into something worth publishing. (Sara Gruen's award-winning novel Water for Elephants began as a NaNo novel.) Some will populate their stories with time-traveling ninjas, flying monkeys, and random song lyrics. It's a month-long writing exercise and a month-long celebration of creativity. It's a little bit crazy. And it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Soon the "I Hate NaNoWriMo" blog posts will begin to spring up like mushrooms across the internet. These are generally written by aspiring or little-known authors who believe the flood of dreadful NaNo manuscripts will somehow keep their masterpieces from being published. Successful writers rarely feel this way; Sue Grafton and Neil Gaiman are two of the many well-known authors who provide the pep talks that go out to participants each week of the event.

The NaNoWiMo forums mention muses a lot. How to attract your muse, how to keep your muse happy and busy, the care and feeding of a muse. NaNo is all about the muse, which is as it should be. The exercise is about messy first drafts, raw and unpolished but fresh and genuine. That first draft is to a writer what a block of clay is to a sculptor. You can't make art without it. Yay, Muse!

There was one thread, though, that gave me pause. It was about all the ways in which people might keep their metaphorical inner editors away during November. All I can say is, there's a lot of resentment toward inner editors out there. Most of the suggestions involved stuffing Inner Editor (generally bound with ropes or chains) into a closet or trunk, locking the door or lid, and hiding the key until December 1.

I fully understand the need to keep Inner Editor from interfering during the first draft process, but all this talk of binding and stuffing makes me (and MY inner editor) a little uncomfortable. After all, Inner Editor has valuable skills we're going to need when it's time to make something beautiful from that big lump of first-draft clay. Maybe, instead of gagging her and handcuffing her to a radiator, we could take a different approach.

When Creative Self and I are working on an early draft, Inner Editor leans over our shoulder and mutters, "You call that writing? Hemingway would turn over in his grave," I remind her that her turn will come--Creative Self is busy making a beautiful, flawed first draft for Inner Editor to carve and polish into a thing of beauty. She gets starry-eyed at the prospect, and I give her chocolate and send her away to bask on a beach somewhere until Creative Self proudly calls her back and plops a finished draft into her hands.

Inner Editor can be critical and sarcastic, but when treated gently and reminded that constructive criticism can still be kind, she's a team player. Assured that her turn will come, she's content to let Creative Self play, with only an occasional nudge ("Hey, you just wrote paedcpm. Didn't you mean peacock?"). As she works her magic, she's happy to let Creative Self watch and weave in a little magic of her own. The editing process becomes a dance between the analytical ("This back story is interesting, but does it really move the story?") and the creative ("Wait, I have a better idea!").

In our celebration of the Muse, let's not forget a kind word for the oft-maligned Inner Editor. Come December, we're going to need her.


Jean Henry Mead said...

This sounds intriguing, Beth. Is there a NaNoWriMo website?

Jaden Terrell said...

Hi, Jean. Yes, it's There's also a link to it in the article. Be sure to check out the forums. There's one where, if you have a question (for example, "How were photographs developed in 1929?"), you can post it, and someone will probably have an answer.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Beth. I'm going to pass it on to my Senior Sleuth Forum.

Jaden Terrell said...

I hope to see you guys there. I'm going to do it again this year. I manage to win every other year, so this is my year to make it. I have an outline for the next book, and I want to get in the 2000 words a day frame of mind again. The fast first draft method works well for me, because I have a hard time generating new material when our busy season at work hits, but if I get a good first draft during the slow season, I can edit when things get crazy here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nudge, Beth. I checked out the web site and it looks like NaNoWriMo has made changes since I tried it a few years ago.I may just try it again!

I kept thinking I'd buy the book No Plot No Problem but just never got around to it.

BTW, I didn't know Water for Elephants started with NaNoWriMo. I really loved that book!

Pat Browning