by Ashley Lister
It’s been suggested that, inside every writer, there are two conflicting personalities. One is the creative free spirit – the facet of our minds that creates the wild new ideas and explores the limitless possibilities of inspiration and imagination. The creative free spirit stretches boundaries, builds unimagined worlds, and has scant regard for the realities of what’s possible, permissible or practical in reality.
The other personality inside a writer is the internal editor. The internal editor criticises and censors ideas, invariably dismissing innovations as illogical, impractical, uninteresting or poorly written.
On the majority of occasions this symbiotic processes works well.
The creative free spirit suggests ideas, expands on them and explores their potential. Sometimes these explorations end in cul-de-sacs, but quite often they involve flights of imagination that encounter undiscovered countries. Fantastic solutions are forged, exciting new worlds are realised and an imperfect first draft is ready for the internal editor.
With the imperfect first draft, the internal editor is able to take over and shape the work into something more accessible. Continuity errors are addressed and repaired. Logical flaws are identified and either discarded or amended. It goes without saying that the internal editor picks up on all the typing problems, grammatical errors and clumsy phrasing that is in need of elegant variation.
But there are occasions when the internal editor tries to interfere with the free spirit’s creative process. This seems to happen to a lot of new writers, as the internal editor laughs at the free spirit’s outrageous ideas and insists that no one would want to read such fanciful garbage, and the whole concept is too preposterous to sustain any reader interest.
For some new writers, this damning self-criticism can be enough to make them quit before they’ve properly begun. The first draft doesn’t get completed because the internal editor is perpetually telling the wannabe author: you can’t do it, you’re wasting your time, no one will want to read this anyway. This sort of criticism is harsh enough when it comes from an external voice. When it’s one inside your head it can be crippling. Consequently, many potential writers simply give up before they’ve properly begun.
Then there are others who allow the internal editor to do too much work. Removing metaphors: because the real world is literal – not figurative. Editing dialogue so that it excises the humanity from a character’s voice. Parsing a narrative until there are only the raw elements of the story, with none of the fine detail that makes the telling so enjoyable.
Usually, what’s left in these instances is letter-perfect: and not worth the effort of reading.
And then there are times when the internal editor simply objects to the work that the writer’s free spirit is creating. Character A wouldn’t spank Character B because people don’t spank each other in the real world. Every reaction to this criticism is invariably countered by the alternate argument: Character A and Character B might get nasty in the dark, with the lights off, but that’s boring and staid and no one would want to read it.
Which is why, this week, when we’re each writing to editors, I wanted to write a letter to my personal ‘internal editor.’ It’s a heartfelt letter intended only for my personal ‘internal editor’ although, if you think it’s applicable to your own internal editor, please feel free to forward the message.
Dear Internal Editor,
STFU. I’m trying to write.
Creative Free Spirit