How to Quell Your Inner Editor: Indulge It in This Deliberate Way

Are you plagued by an inner editor? It can take many forms. First, there’s the critical voice that shouts: “This isn’t analytical enough! What are you even trying to say? This isn’t new.” There’s also the frustrated voice that points out the distance between your great idea and what appears on the page: “That sentence doesn’t really capture exactly what I want to say! That tone is not quite right. I need to set this opposition up better” Or, the seemingly innocuous fact-checking impulse: “Oh, you need to double-check that quote/ date/ word/ place.”

An inner editors is useful in the late stages of projects, when precision is paramount. But at the early stages of projects–when you’re doing the hard work of getting your academic writing to take shape–it can be lethal. At best, it interrupts forward progress. At worst, it demands that you perfect what you have before you know for certain that it will make the cut to the final draft. You might spend hours revising a paragraph, only to find out later that it’s tangential to your argument.

So, if an inner editor can stall progress or even waste time, how can you banish them? Here’s one seemingly counterintuitive key: indulge them, but deliberately. Capture what they’re saying (using the processes I suggest below) without actually revising in the moment. Then, devote one day per week (and no more), to addressing all of its concerns.

How to Quell Your Inner Editor: Action Plan

  1. Identify one writing session per week that will be your revising day.
  2. During your non-revising writing sessions, recognize when your inner editor (or fact checker) surfaces. Monitor your own triggers using the monitoring worksheet.
  3. IFTT (If this then that): If your inner editor (or fact checker) surfaces, write a note to yourself in the same document about what specific action needs to be taken to fix the academic writing. Write this note to your future, revising self. For instance, “This is no good. I don’t have anything useful to say” is not actionable. “Find a better word for X,” “revise this sentence to better highlight the tension with Y” and “double-check this year” are.  I usually make these notes in-line, in all caps inside of square brackets. Doing so makes them easy to spot, like these from my Scrivener or Word documents:

Inner Editor In-line Comment

Inner Editor in line comment 2

Or, you could insert a comment, as I sometimes do. Remember to write your comment(s) to your future (revising) self:

Use Comments to Quell your Inner editor

Then, remind yourself of when you will return to it (your revising day) and continue writing. Your inner editor should be temporarily placated that you have a specific time to address its concern.

The amazing part? Not only will you have actionable revision tasks (your future self will thank you), but after a few weeks, your inner editor’s most critical but overly general comments (“this is no good… how could you write that?!”) will actually begin to quiet down. In their place, you will instead begin to hear comments that help you polish your writing as a craft.

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