Want to Write Faster? The Art of Quieting Your Inner Editor
I’m a mediocre soccer player.
I didn’t start playing soccer until I was in my forties. I have a lot of athletic experience, but moving a ball with my feet … it’s a challenge.
I’ve been at it for a while now. And, I have gotten better. But, let’s just say, I still have a lot of room to grow. (Bear with me … this relates to writing. I promise!)
I’m actually in a pretty fun stage of my skill development. I’m at the part where sometimes I do a move with the ball and realize that (a) I didn’t even know I was going to do it, and (b) it worked.
It’s hard to get to that point, because the temptation is to think through the move. To plan the move and then consciously execute it. But, when you try that approach, you do the move slowly — way more slowly than is effective. And, you’re more likely to notice if you’ve made even a small mistake, and then try to fix it … at which point the whole move falls apart, and the opposing player usually steals the ball.
Writing isn’t all that different … except for the opposing player part. (See? I told you. 😃)
When you write, you have a choice. You can pay attention to every word you choose and every mistake you make and try to fix them and improve them as you go.
Or, you can just write … and then go back and improve and fix your work once you’ve completed your draft.
There is a right choice.
When you try to edit your work as you go, constantly circling back to fix and improve things, you slow down your flow of thoughts. You also give the reins to the analytical part of your brain and interrupt the creative part.
This means you’ll write more slowly. Even worse, it means you’re shutting down the flow of creative ideas before they even get going. In soccer terms, the move is falling apart, and you’re letting your inner editor steal the ball.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to write without thinking — without considering if what you’re getting down onto the page is working or not, and without worrying about the typos — then you surrender to the creative side of your mind.
You’ll begin to write faster. You’ll see connections you might have missed otherwise. And, you’ll come up with more and more creative ideas.
You’ll pull off great things and only realize it happened after the fact.
In other words, you’ll get into the flow.
Here’s the thing, though. Whether you’re playing a soccer game or writing a website for a client, doing your work without the in-progress self-analysis is hard. Really hard.
And, that’s because we all need to self-analyze, and we know it. We need to review the move and see how we can do better. And then practice doing better. We need to read through our work and look for opportunities to improve it.
The trick is to separate the moment of doing from the analysis that comes later.
That’s the trick we’re going to talk about today.
Asking your inner editor to wait their turn — and having them listen — takes time and practice. But, it’s worth the effort. When you learn how to do this, you’ll write faster and better.
Shift Your Mind Into the Creative Mode … and Keep It There
A focusing agent is exactly what it sounds like — something that helps you get focused and stay focused.
When you’re trying to write, you engage the creative parts of your brain. And, when you try to edit, you’re working with the analytical parts of your brain. When you try to do both at once, you’re switching back and forth, which never really allows you to focus.
With a focusing agent, you help to shift your mind into the creative mode, and you allow it to stay there.
This takes practice. Don’t think using a focusing agent will work like magic the first time you try it. But, keep using it, and within a couple of weeks to a month, you’ll find it’s easier to resist the temptation to edit as you go.
Your focusing agent can be anything that works for you. It can be music. It can be a brief ritual you go through before you begin writing. It can be a particular place in your house. It can be an item of clothing or a specific beverage.
For me, I like to use music as my focusing agent. Typically, I work with Focus at Will, an app that offers a variety of musical styles meant to work with your brain to give you more focus.
Working for a set amount of time in combination with your focusing agent also helps you stay in the work mode you want to be in.
So, for example, I might sit down to my computer, take a long, deep breath, and think to myself … I’m going to spend the next 30 minutes focused on writing a first draft for April’s Wealthy Web Writer featured article. I turn my music on, set a timer for 30 minutes, and start writing.
Now, just because I’ve done all these things doesn’t mean I’m not tempted to fix typos when Word underlines them in red for me. But, it does mean I have an easier time catching that temptation before I act on it.
And, the more I do that, the less the temptation to switch gears comes up in the first place.
All Writers Talk to Themselves … Right?
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s crazy to talk to yourself. If you’re a writer, it’s essential.
And, it’s also an effective way to quiet your inner editor.
Here’s the thing … you need your inner editor. It’s what helps you take a draft and identify the weaknesses. The places where things are confusing or bumpy … the sections where the pacing doesn’t feel right … and, of course, the typos.
Without your inner editor, you’ll never do your best work.
So, one way to keep your inner editor at bay, when your goal is to write (not edit), is to simply ask it to wait its turn.
As you sit down to write, try saying to your inner editor, something like the following:
To my inner editor. I’m about to write a draft for a project I’m working on. And, I’m going to need your help to make it as strong and clean as possible. But first, I need to get my ideas down. For the next 30 minutes, can you hold your thoughts?
This simple acknowledgement of the importance of both writing and editing can be enough to quiet your editor until you need it.
The Go-To for This Kind of Discipline
No matter what tools you choose to use to quiet your inner editor, there’s one that will help all your other tools be more effective …
The practice of meditating is all about learning to be more aware of your thoughts. When you sit quietly for 10 or 15 minutes a day and try to empty your mind of thoughts, you’ll notice the thoughts come anyway.
And, when they do, as you’re learning to meditate, you’ll latch onto those thoughts and chase them for a bit.
Then, you’ll remember you’re meditating, and you’ll bring your mind back to emptiness.
Until the next thought comes up, and you chase it. Don’t worry; when this happens, it’s totally normal.
Over time, it will become easier to notice when a thought pops into your mind but not chase it.
When that starts to happen, you’ll see it carry over into many other things. Including your writing.
A lot of times, your inner editor takes over almost reflexively, without your even noticing.
But, start meditating regularly, and you’ll reach the point where you notice your editor stepping forward. You’ll be able to catch yourself before you switch into that mode.
And, when that happens, you’ll begin writing faster and better.
And, anything that can increase both quantity and quality of your writing is worth the effort in my book.
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