Tuesday, 22 June 2010

AlphaThoughts - The Internal Editor

The 'internal editor' is a force every writer should be aware of and prepared to face, whether they are a blogger, a creative writer, or anyone who works with text in your professional or personal life.  Your internal editor might manifest him/herself in any number of ways, including the following:

  • As the force that drives your hand towards the backspace button, or that makes you scribble out what you have just written.
  • As the little voice in your head that reads what you've just written and says 'That sounds pompous'; 'That's a clunky sentence'; 'Who would be interested in this?'.
  • As the need to have your story, poem, blog post, or any other text carefully planned out before you put pen to paper or fingers to keys.
  • As the ever-dreaded writer's block - not the 'having nothing to write about' kind, but the 'not knowing how to start, how to be eye-catching, how to be a pleasure to read etc' kind.
The internal editor's influence can be crippling - believe me, I know.  I have spent so long obsessing about my novel and various writing or plotting 'rules'.  My novel doesn't have a villain as such, does that matter?  I've got three possible endings, how do I know which one would be best?  My characters seem boring, what if no-one cares about them enough to keep reading?  Is my plot original enough?  'Obviously,' my internal editor assures me, 'you must have the answer to all of these set in stone before you can even CONSIDER starting Chapter 1.'

The internal editor is often described as the left side of your brain.  The right side is for being creative, intuitive, random even, and the left side for grounding you in reality.  A Google search on 'left right brain test' brings up many tests of which side is dominant for you.  The Art Institute of Vancouver test told me I was 57% dominated by the right, creative side, with the following sub-results:

Your Left Brain Percentages
  34%Verbal (Your most dominant characteristic)
  17%Symbolic (Your least dominant characteristic)

Your Right Brain Percentages
  52%Fantasy-oriented (Your most dominant characteristic)
  0%Concrete (Your least dominant characteristic)

While no test is perfect, this seems a pretty fair assessment of me.  While I think of myself as creative (and 'fantasy-oriented' is also fair!), my internal editor is most picky about the verbal elements and being precise in my use of language.

A test you may have come across is this dancer.  Apparently if you see her turning anti-clockwise, you are more dominated by your left brain, and clockwise by the right.  She can change direction while you're looking - I find she does when I focus on her bottom foot.  And she changes for me on different days!

The left, logical side of your brain likes to bang on about facts, grammar, likely outcomes and other boring but necessary things.  It does this to make sure that the right, creative side of the brain knows who's in charge.  In fairness to the left, we do need its general sensibleness to hold this tight rein on our sensibility.  Otherwise we would never make reasoned decisions, make appointments, or even make it to work in the morning.

But there are times when the left brain should just shut up...like when you are trying to create a startling poem or an inspirational post.  You are not silencing the editor forever, just deferring it - unfettered inspiration first, boring grammar and presentation later.  Acknowledging your internal editor is halfway to controlling it, but there are various tips and techniques out there to help you put that damned left brain back in its box for a while.  I will be testing out any of these that I can find in the coming months (my left brain is particularly snide and intrusive), and will post my findings here for you to try!

1 comment:

  1. This is really informative. I had no idea of the science behind my complete inability to trust intuition when writing. I stop every few sentences to check and edit what I've just written - a habit that's disabling and distracting, cutting the natural flow of thoughts and words. Pls post how you get on controlling the left brain box!! Cibi x