Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Inner Editor and the Art of Selective Hearing

Sometimes Much of the time I hear voices.

Not audible voices that are indistinguishable from the ones emanating from real people in my life. Nor do they come from animals or inanimate objects. So from the mental health perspective I'd have to say I'm safe. Or at least the most quantifiable pieces and parts that collectively add up to what one would call my sanity is. Safe. From these voices.


But there is a part of me that is not safe if something isn't done to keep said voices in check. That part is the writer in me. Which now that we're talking about it, is a part that is pretty deeply interwoven with all the other vitals that keep me ticking. Neglect the part for long enough and it's implosion, explosion or what have you tends to take the whole down with it. Perhaps not completely. Maybe not all at once. But enough to cause some serious impairments.

So lets talk about how to avoid that shall we?

Being that I happen to be in the metaphorical repair shop (therapy) myself as I type this, dealing with some of the fallout that can happen when you let the voices dictate the volume control for too long, I can at least speak to what doesn't work.

Your inner editor.

The problem with it is that it is both incredibly valuable and incredibly dangerous. Necessary, but like a whiny toddler who made a Mom out of a woman with dormant motherly instincts, if allowed to run the show it will grind all productivity and progress to a halt. It leaves you overwhelmed with the knowledge of responsibility and utterly exhausted despite your love for the gift of the role. After that toddler has been given an inch and taken twenty miles over the course of a day 6:00pm rolls around and you feel like you're preparing dinner in a straight jacket. Absolutely no room to breathe or think straight... or do anything normal of a sane person. You give in more because the results of all the previous giving in has left you wanting to cry in a corner wondering how any parent has ever made it out alive ever. In all of history. Or you snap and become angry mom.

That is what happens when you let your inner editor run loose on content you haven't written yet. It shuts you down at every pass, stalls you up and creates a self-fulfilling writers block the likes of which couldn't be overcome with 50 typewritters and a kitchen full of coffee and wine.

Or it turns you into a critic... but I won't go too far in that direction except to say that you know you're heading down that dead end path when you start wanting to rampage through your closest Barnes & Noble knocking books off the shelves left and right laughing maniacally as you do because "They're all filth! Garbage!" and "Aren't there any real writers left? ARGH!"

Here's the thing. You can't be good until you let yourself suck for a while first.

Give yourself a pass.

Give yourself a chance.

You can't measure up to the great writers of all time right now, as you are, and that's okay. I know you want to. I do too. But holding your unedited first paragraph of an unwritten first draft up against the standard of a completed work done by someone who probably wrote more a day that you've written this year isn't going to inspire you to do better. it's going to shut you right down. Or at least that's what it does to me, and I'm guessing you're not too far off.

Editing as you go has it's place, and I'm not even going to begin to pretend that I won't continue to do it to some small extent moving forward. BUT! Rereading what you just typed after every sentence or two? That's for social media comment sections and perhaps short to medium length blog posts. Twitter? please, please do. Since you've only got 140 characters you don't have much to sit on. But speaking as a blogger who has only ever written essay-styled pieces and poetry until recently, because she let her inner editor control the volume knob for most of her adult life, write fiction with the editor just barely off mute.


Throw away all those little inspirational quotes you've got floating around in your head like "If you don't have time to do it right the first time when will you have time to fix it" and other such well meaning bravado. It. Doesn't. Apply.

Not here. Not for what you're doing. Because what your doing is the thing that actually makes you a writer. You're writing.

And here's a secret. First Drafts always suck.

When the editor in your brain says "not good enough", "cliché"  or "who do you think you are, calling yourself a writer? You're the the Queen of bad grammar and run-on sentences!" tell it "I'll fix it later"

Seriously. Four little words. I'll fix it later.

Because here's the greatest part. You can. No one has to see your process if you don't want them to. You don't have to show your work to anybody until you're sure you've puttied all the holes and painted over all the scuff marks. Heck you don't have to show anybody at all ever, if it really winds up sucking as bad as you think it does.

If you worry about what Grandma or your grown up children will think while you're trying to write, your work will be disjointed and inhibited if it amounts to anything at all.

If you worry about the impact the quality of this book will have on the marketplace reception of every future book you may ever write, someday, in the distant future, while you're writing this one? Good luck carrying the weight of that pack on your back my friend.

Do yourself a favor and put that straight jacket on your inner editor where it belongs until your finished draft has sat on your desk at least long enough for you to have one very well deserved celebratory drink.

I will see you at that finish line.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

You Can Do Better

   I've spent a lot of time on YouTube these past few months and I have found some favorite artists and creators among this medium. One of those favorites is a hilarious guy by the name of Mike Falzone, and while digging through his extensive archives one day I happened to find myself listening to a cover he made of a song called Do Better by Say Anything. I'm not even going to attempt to lie here and pretend like I had heard the song before... but I will say that I couldn't bring myself to close the tab after listening to it that first time. And I haven't. For weeks. (sorry Jason, I know, too many tabs... always, way WAY too many tabs)

   I can't get it out of my head. Something about the lyrics and the mood of the song is entrancing... and I STILL cannot tell if it makes me feel incredibly better or incredibly worse. But either way it's strangely comforting.

Have a listen for yourself:

   After listening to it on repeat for way too long I finally decided to think through why this phrase "you can do better" is so disconcerting to me. Why I can't let it go. Why it is both soothing and painful in the way that hydrogen peroxide works on an open wound (which apparently you're not supposed to do anymore?)  I haven't figured it out entirely yet but I did write this the other night as I was trying to fall asleep:

For those who can't read my messy handwritting:

You can do better is quite a dichotomy of a sentence, especially for one so short. 
It's a perfectly fine thing to say to someone going through a rough breakup. 
In that context it obviously means 'you deserve better'... 'they're not good enough for you'. 

But when someone says 'you can do better' to you in regards to just about anything else, 
or worse when you say it to yourself 
it reverberates a double meaning through your cerebral cortex 
and you're left wondering which one is more true. 

Am I capable of immeasurably great things
or am I being compared against a standard to which I can never measure up? 

Should I feel inspired or ashamed?

What do you think? Has anyone ever told you that you can do better? Did it help or hurt? Encourage or Belittle? Perhaps both... share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Caution: Detour Ahead

   To me she seemed mostly like her same old self, even as she kept talking about how different she had become. Pointing back to some switch that flipped. If it had, I couldn't tell. At least not until a moment when unimaginable hurt appeared out of nowhere on her face where patience and a slightly unamused smirk would have normally sat.

   What the hell was happening? 

   She was just talking about some characters she was working on and suddenly her face shattered as her arms flew up and came back down, hands in fists. Her knees popped up as her feet pushed off the floor. All  of it seemingly in one motion. In one moment... it's as if she forgot she was buckled into the seat of our car and instead thought she was slamming her elbows down on a dining table, for emphasis while violently standing up to storm away after a heated argument.

   In the very next breath she was sobbing and blubbering incessant apologies for having yelled... Then insisting through tears that she was fine, please keep driving. Telling me to calm down.

   Where did my wife go? Maybe she really was as crazy as she claimed.

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