Latest News

The OTHER kind of editor (and how to compromise with her)

So today I’m going to introduce you to my editor.

Before you get all excited, I should probably mention that she’s not the kind of editor who works at a publishing house. She’s the other kind. The one we all have in one form or another. The one who talks a lot, who spends her time sitting in between you and the words you’re meant to be writing right now. Mine is here right now, actually, as I type this. She’s had a lot to say about this paragraph already, actually, and by the time you read this post, she will have picked through it, oh, at least a dozen more times. My editor is thin and immaculate with a pointy chin, dark rimmed glasses with little square frames, her hair pulled back out of her face in a severe bun, a grey business suit (with pinstripes, if you must know). And she’s usually reading over my shoulder with this particular little frown on her face. You know, this isn't a very good sentence, she says. And I’m pretty sure that character has shrugged at least four times in this scene. Your writing is particularly mediocre today. Why did you choose that word? Goodness, that’s all rather clichéd, isn't it? You’re sounding like an amateur who sounds derivative of other amateurs who sound derivative of monkeys. Etc.

I've tried different ways of dealing with my editor. In my early days of attempting to write novels, I used to let her win almost every time. I mean, hey, she seemed to know exactly what she was talking about. She’d stop me from doing pretty much everything I got annoyed by in books by other people. Very successfully, actually. So successfully, in fact, that she stopped me from writing anything at all.

Then I tried going in the opposite direction. I was going to ignore that editor, shove her in the back cupboard, behead her like a hapless Game of Thrones character, whatever it took to shut her up so I could just write that first draft in peace. I discovered the crazy gloriousness of free writing  (which I still love, by the way). So that's the end of the story, right? I made the editor stop and then I lived happily ever after?

No, because my editor is made of stern stuff. Was she going to politely vacate just so I could write a first draft? Never. So as it turned out, I’d added a new battle. Because now every time the editor raised her voice I had to fight her, dammit. I was counting writing sessions as failures not because what I’d written was bad, but because that pesky editor had been commentating the whole time and I hadn't managed to silence her. There were also occasions when I did manage to break through and work on my first draft without the editor blaring in my ear, and they were frenzied and fun and taught me a great deal about writing and being courageous, but, as it turned out, they often didn't actually lead to coherent first drafts. They led to crazy poetic messes that no amount of editing could fix.

So what do I do these days? I compromise.

Say I’m writing a sentence, and my editor starts talking to me. I don’t think that’s something this character would even say. He’s holding a tomato? Where did he even get a tomato? You know this is going to need a lot of fixing in order for it to even make sense. 

What’s my answer to this? If it’s a minor thing, like deleting a word that repeats itself or avoiding contradicting something I've said earlier? I concede that one to her and fix it straightaway, as fast as possible. And then I keep writing. If it’s something I can’t work out how to fix? I tell her I’ll fix it later. And then I keep writing. If it’s a massive gaping hole in the plot that she has a possible solution for? I make a note of it. And then I keep writing.

But what about the ugly stuff? What about when she tells me that everything I have written today is ghastly, and that the reason my cat keeps trying to walk on the keyboard is because he can obviously do better? What then?

I say, okay. That’s fine. You’re probably absolutely right. The cat probably is a better writer than me, and everything I've written today probably is ghastly. And then I keep writing.

What does your internal editor look like? How do you deal with him/her? 
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

Posts by Leila

tumblr twitter

  • Blogger Comments
  • Facebook Comments


  1. Your internal editor sounds like a nagger. She'd drive me crazy! Mine finds every little thing I could possibly fix and lets me make the choice of how to fix it, offering solutions that I could either take or pass up. Of course, that's not to say she's never arched up when she's sensed my weakness and told me how horrible my work is. But that's okay, because she's probably right when she says that and I know then that whatever I'm writing will get better when I do more editing on it. Eventually.

    Thanks for sharing, this was an interesting post :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry, my editor went for a brisk jog around the block and didn't see the typo until I clicked "Publish."

    My drill sargent of an editor looks a lot like my high school gym teacher. Short, skinny, boyish brown helmet for hair. She loves blowing the silver whistle hanging around her neck whenever I make a mistake, screaming "You're going to do pushups for every time you use the word 'that' or your character shakes his head." I hate pushups. I was able to tune her out for most of NaNo month, but in December she came back with a vengeance.

    So, how did I deal with her, my nagging editor who loves to lurk over my shoulder and blow her whistle? Just recently, mater-of-fact, I sat her down with a cup of her favorite 'joe' and we came up with a compromise. She can help- because Lord I need her- but only when I'm editing, and not when my lovely, yellow-haired songstress (my muse) has come to play. I assured her, "I call you when I need you." And then, we sat back, enjoying those last drops of coffee before returning back to work.

  4. After I graduated college and, for some strange reason, went into mathematics (okay, not strange...$$), I stopped writing. Two months ago I began to write again. Two months ago Horatio and Hester discovered my lap as a viable source of comfort. You have now provided me with the reason. Thanks.

    (I cannot comment on your questions as I currently have no editor.)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I think my internal editor somehow slipped into my dorm room when I entered the college. When I write a scene she says "You can do better. Do it again" and I would delete the entire scene. She's oh-so-talented in nagging me about my sentences, word choice, dialogue and comparing me to other writers I admire. Her interference has gotten so bad that she can even stop me from finishing a sentence and writing altogether.

    A total nag she is, and putting on my headphones does not make her go away. I'm looking for duct tape. However after reading this, maybe I should give her a little moment to speak every now and then. After all, she can have her good points when she's not making me pull my hair out. Thanks for the great post. :)

  7. My editor cackles maniacally each time a character bites her lip or shrugs. Also, she is one of those women who is skinny as a twig and sits across from me eating organic vegan vegetable things and making faces at my Totino's Party pizzas.

    Don't even get me started on my cats. Sometimes they fight for the right to insert a cleverly places row of Zs when I'm not looking, as if to say "this will make big bucks as a sleep aid once you're finished."

  8. Hello!
    I'm wondering if you would be interested in doing a website link exchange? I see your website: and my website are primarily based around the same subject matter. I'd love to swap links or perhaps guest author a post for you.
    Appreciate it.

    Look into my web page :: site

  9. Hi, Ӏ thіnk your blog might bе having browseг
    сompatibility issueѕ. When I look at your blog site in Operа, it lοoks fine but when оpening in Intеrnеt Explorer, it has some overlapping.

    I just ωanted to give you a quick heads up! Other thеn that, wonderful blog!

    My wеbρage; tens

  10. I know this site presents quality based posts and extra stuff,
    is there any other website which gives these data in quality?

    Feel free to surf to my page :: advertise your Florida business

  11. Your editor sounds a lot like mine! I can't even get through one paragraph without her breathing down my neck. More often than not, she sits by my side and takes my keyboard from right under my hands to make her own corrections.
    "Do you realize these sentences don't flow together? Obviously not," she says. "Let me fix it."
    She then proceeds to read over the entire previously written section of text without shying away from asking me what the heck I was thinking.
    I imagine she looks a lot like me, except with a more sophisticated style. She dresses like a proper woman -- pencil skirts and neatly pressed blouses -- and wears lipstick. She intimidates me to no end, and because she looks an acts so darn smart, I figure she must know best.
    I have a feeling she'll hang around forever. All I need to do is muster the courage to tell her off once in a while!


Comments are moderated on posts two weeks old or more -- please send us a tweet if yours needs approval!

Item Reviewed: The OTHER kind of editor (and how to compromise with her) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin