As you’ve plugged away at your novel these last few days, your Inner Editor has probably made an appearance or two. No matter how well you think you’ve locked her away, she always manages to escape the straightjacket and break out of the padlocked footlocker. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, she’ll behave and stay in the shadows to watch from afar. But other times, she’ll show up when you’ve written something brilliant to impart some snarky comment like, “You gave your main character cancer? Really? You’re not John Green, you know.”
Harsh, yes, and totally true. (Even John Green probably looks at his works in progress and wonders if he’s as good as John Green.) But never while penning your first draft is it a good idea to listen to your Inner Editor, and this is especially true during NaNoWriMo. After all, the whole point of this crazy 50,000-words-in-just-30-days challenge is to write, and if your Inner Editor insists on hindering you, you must take extra care to ignore her.
It isn’t that your Inner Editor is evil. Brutally honest perhaps, but she’s not mean. She’s merely a perfectionist, and an impatient one to boot. And you really don’t want to banish her forever because you’ll need her once NaNoWriMo is over and the grand masterpiece you carefully crafted has huge, gaping, iceberg-sized plot holes in desperate need of fixing. That’s when you’ll be glad to have an Inner Editor eagerly marking up your manuscript until it oozes red ink on its own.
But in the meantime, she needs a vacation far, far away from your novel-in-progress.
If you’re going to embrace the NaNoWriMo challenge of getting your novel down on paper (or up on the screen) as quickly as possible, you need to focus on moving your characters from plot point to plot point—that’s it. For some writers, that’s a straightforward approach, and they manage to work in just the right amount of conflict to prevent the main character from easily achieving his goals as he moves from point to point. For others, especially those who don’t carefully plan the full novel before sitting down to write, this is prime time for their Inner Editors.
If you happen to fall into the latter group of unfortunate souls (as I do on occasion), know the only way to escape it is to keep writing. Break all the conventional rules if you get stuck. Insert a flashback. Introduce a new character. Have a dead body fall from the sky and write down your characters’ reactions to it. Skip to the next plot point altogether if you must, but keep writing. Just know your Inner Editor will fight you every sentence of the way. That’s her job, after all.
Whenever I reach these impasses, when I have no idea how to get my main character through the current scene (never mind to the next act), my inner editor is a siren luring me off my charted course and into the Jagged Rocks of Distraction. “I’m just trying to help, E,” she coos as she emerges from the shadows. “You know absolutely nothing about having a concussion. You should research it.”
Research. It’s such a seductive word when you’re looking for excuses to not write. And thanks to the internet, it’s easy, too. Answers to any question you may have are a mouse-click away—as are all your social media accounts, your email, news sites, and favorite blogs. And you’ve got to know what Perez Hilton is saying about Lady GaGa now because, you know, it could be kind of critical. But once you open Pandora’s box (cleverly disguised as your preferred browser), you expose yourself to time sucks of the greatest magnitude. So don’t listen to your Inner Editor. Banish her back to the corner and press on.
Now, I’ll admit it would be so much easier to ignore her if she wasn’t right. (Don’t let on you know this, though.) Remember: Details can be managed during the revision process. Agents and editors don’t want to see your novel on December first, anyway, so cut yourself some slack and write whatever. For example, not sure if the college where your main character will apply has an Environmental Studies program? It doesn’t matter. Jot down the name of any school that comes to mind, and do the research later. Feel like changing the love interest’s name from “Keith” to “Kevin” halfway through your story? Great! Change the color of his eyes while you’re at it, and give him a chipped tooth instead of a perfect smile. You can leave yourself parenthetical reminders to look up or change all these things later, and your notes will add to your word count!
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s a first draft. It’s a rough draft. It’s allowed to be chaotic and full of errors and an overall, horrible mess. Your Inner Editor won’t like it, but promise her you’ll give her first crack at it as soon as you’re done writing the book.
And give her a bit of chocolate to placate her, too. You still won’t be John Green, but at least you’ll have a finished novel.