I don't have an inner editor. No, really, I don't. I know what you're thinking. . . I must be producing some really sloppy work and never get beyond the first draft. But that's just not true. My work still gets revised, I just hate that four-lettered word: edit. It was the bane of my existence for years. I would sit down to write and would barely get started before my Inner Editor would stick her nose in and start telling me everything I was doing wrong and convince me there was no point in moving forward with the project if it wasn't going to be completely perfect from the get-go. Anyone who has ever tried writing that way knows exactly how counter-productive it is.I struggled with my inner editor through college and grad school, barely eeking out more than one or two short stories a year that didn't involve a firm deadline and a letter grade that would impact my GPA. I secretly worried it would take me decades to finish a novel when I was ready to tackle one. I needed a perspective shift and my inner editor needed a new career.
Photo by Bill Longshaw
When I looked at my writing process, I began to see similarities between the way I write and the way a house is built. I'm no expert on construction, but one thing is pretty clear about building a house: you need the basics -- a foundation, walls, a roof over your head, doors and windows to let in light (light is so important!) before you can start hanging curtains, painting walls and arranging furniture. I began to think of my writing in this way. My early drafts were the foundation and walls going up. A house being built is often ugly, and it is hard to imagine the beautiful finished product in the early stages when it is just a bunch of concrete poured into a hole in the ground and studs stick up out of it. But without that ugly phase, you would never get to the fun part of making it look pretty. Which is exactly what the editing process feels like for me. It is beautifying. It is smoothing out the language, finding the flaws and patching them. Hanging curtains, painting walls, finding that rug that really brings the whole room together. It is taking what is bland and lifeless and making it exciting, welcoming. It is taking an empty room and creating a space that is not just livable, but lovable. Something you will share with your family and friends. Places where memories happen. Places that take on a life of their own.
Photo from Photostock
My inner editor and I sat down and talked. I waved a lot of pretty colors at her and convinced her that editing wasn't for her. She would, however, make a fabulous interior decorator. And I just so happened to be building some houses, as long as she could be patient enough for me to finish them. And so a new working relationship began. At first she didn't get it. She was pretty excited about her new career and kept shoving fabric swatches and paint samples at me while I was writing, but it was suddenly easier to tell her to back off. I could put it in terms that made it obvious it wasn't her turn yet.
"I can't look at fabric for curtains when I don't know for sure if I am going to even put a window there yet," I'll point out.
"Oh, good point. I will just put this in my folder of possibilities until you're done." And she'll return to all her glossy magazines and make mental notes of things she might like to do if the finished space turns out the way she plans.
Photo by Julie A. Wenskoski
It was liberating. I suddenly was in charge of what I was creating and my reasons for telling her no were too logical for her to argue. Sure, she always has plans for the space, and that is acceptable because her plans are ultimately dictated by my finished product. And I was able to give myself permission to create something unrefined and even ugly. When the time comes, my inner interior decorator is always there to help make it beautiful, to make it a habitable home.
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