The always insightful jeannineatkins has a terrific recent post on the narrators we hear in our heads, both in our lives and in our writing.

It made me think about someone I used to regard as my worst enemy: my internal editor. When I first started writing, she mocked my words incessantly. No sentence was ever good enough, at least not for long. Sometimes she would even wake me in the middle of the night to inform me that my writing was no good, that I was no good, and that I didn’t have a hope in Hades of ever being published.


What do you do if you have an internal editor like that?

My answer, after much agony, was to give her a sheet of paper. (Turns out Jeannine does much the same thing, only she turns the keyboard over. Mine, however, prefers handwriting. Guess she’s the old-fashioned type.)

Pen in hand, my internal editor usually undergoes a transformation. She may start with vitriol, but then she becomes unsure — and then, often as not, quite helpful. Maybe the work isn’t as bad as she thought. Maybe there’s hope yet. She lists her objections and questions, but they’ll tend to come out as “The arc between N and L isn’t working in that last chapter” instead of “This is a piece of junk.”

She still has her bad days — had one, in fact, this Saturday, where she got in a tizzy about the latest chapter and decided the whole book should torpedoed. But now that I know her better, I’m less thrown by the bad moods. I’ve lived with her long enough to have discovered this: Underneath the bluster and carping and meanness, she’s scared for me. Scared that I’ll do something to embarrass myself, scared that I’ll do something so crazy and stupid that I’ll forever be branded by it. And she wants to save me from myself.

The trouble is — as I’ve gently explained to her — there’s no way to be a good writer without sometimes looking like a fool.

Not an easy thing for her to hear. But she’s taking it surprisingly well.