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August 2016

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How the river flows

If you've read this blog for even a short time, you probably know that I'm a big advocate of emotional and mental freedom during the first draft. Or, to put it more bluntly, having your muse stuff your inner critic in a trunk while you're crafting a first draft.

My agent, Nathan Bransford, posted a slightly different take on this today, and rather than taking issue with it, I actually know what he means. So I decided to see if I could differentiate between the inner voices of the picky critic (who should be ignored at this stage) and the useful editor (who may help).

"Nobody will want to read this stupid story."--critic

"That's boring."--critic

"Hmm, if they kiss here instead of there, it makes everything go in a totally different direction."--editor

"I brought them to the store, but now they have nothing to do here. It was more fun back at the party. Maybe I should go back there."--editor

"Don't say that--your husband/mother/daughter won't like it."--critic

"Is that even a word?"--critic

"Should she really tell him now that she's his mother?"--editor

In short, the critic is the second-guesser. The critic may be stifling your creativity by trying to please everyone you've ever known, or may be the one who makes you double-check your word choice and saves you from embarrassing misspellings. Regardless, all the critic's work can be saved for later drafts. Tying yourself in knots over those issues will just stall a first draft.

On the other hand, the editor raises questions about the direction of a story that can help keep it on track. Some people find it better to just keep writing on through the editor's doubts and questions; it's a matter of personal process. But I often find that if I take a little time to backtrack out of a scene that has led to a dead end, or if I think a bit about where the story needs to go next, I can keep the momentum of the book moving forward.


I've battled this issue for the past two weeks and blogged about it on Tuesday. Thanks for showing the distinction between the "critic" and the "editor". They really are two different things. Thanks for making it clear!
For me, at least, they are distinguishable--and I suspect for many others.
"Nobody will want to read this stupid story."--critic

Um, this is the one I'm fighting with right now while I try to revise my novel. It hurts me. It hurts a lot.

Edited at 2010-10-29 01:36 am (UTC)
That critic shall sit in the corner with a sock in its mouth.
when I am in my first draft i usually write along without format and sometimes even without ending chapters just letting the story flow. But what do I hear is the editor I hear him since I am making the story in my mind and writing the plot line in a notebook to see what I should right next.
The critic is always there but I always try not to hear him.
Great post!

Edited at 2010-10-29 03:07 am (UTC)
Sounds like you have a process that really works for you!
in my first draft my critic is not around really. i am too excited thinking up the story and editing it to stay on track, in line with the story in my head (but leaving room for it to grow bigger when needed). my critic roars out of hibernation when i do later drafts. i think it's a matter of the story on paper not matching what's in my head. but with each draft i get more secure with the story as i learn more about the story and the characters.
The critic can be useful later on. Just not when we're reaching deep into our most vulnerable places to coax out that story! At least, that's true for me.
I agree. :)
Sometimes I find that you still need a friendly chat with the editor in very early drafts, something along the lines of: "Helpful suggestions will be appreciated. Spit, polish, and perfection must wait." If cooperation is not forthcoming, threaten to put the editor's red pen in timeout.
Hee hee, show that editor who's boss.
"I often find that if I take a little time to backtrack out of a scene that has led to a dead end, or if I think a bit about where the story needs to go next, I can keep the momentum of the book moving forward."

I totally agree. There has been several, even dozens of times where, when I'm not 'feeling' it, scrapping a scene or two of clunky, useless material is worth more than it's weight in gold, in terms of overall ease and progress.

Thanks for the informative post!
Yes, sometimes that's the very thing that gets the story moving again!
It used to be the first draft where the critic would kill my creativity, but I finished the draft by reminding myself that if something wasn't perfect I could fix it in revisions. Unfortunately, that just put all the pressure on me during revisions. Now, the critic is screaming the "No one will want to read this stupid story one" over and over while I try to lock said critic in the closet and get some work done. Sigh.

How to make that one shut up?
My muse likes to bundle the critic up, stuff him in a chest, and sit on the cover of the chest.

A critic can bring useful questions, can help you assess the true weaknesses of a piece of work, but just plain bad-mouthing isn't helpful.

I suggest reading the chapter, "Radio Station KFKD" in Anne Lamott's book BIRD BY BIRD. If you're sensitive to cursing, I'll let you know that the language is strong. But the message of that chapter is about dealing with those negative voices in the head. And then read the chapter called "Giving," because remember, there's a strong likelihood that what you're writing is a gift that someone somewhere needs. Maybe even you.
My inner critic is particularly nasty. As my fingers hover above the keyboard, I hear:

"You're 47 years old, you never wrote anything but term papers and journals and NOW you think you're a *cough* *hack* Writer?!? {hysterical laughter} You're kidding, right?"

Please, someone, send me some Critic-Be-Gone spray.
Reply: "I'm writing NOW. That's what counts."
Thanks. :-)
This is my first time on this blog. Came here via Nathan Bransford's site. Found your post helpful. I've just finished proofreading my novel Streets on a Map to be published shortly by Ark House Press and so the editor and critic have been in full flight. Now need to switch that critic off while doing NaNoWriMo
Good luck! :-)
Thanks. I've just written my first 1600 or so words.Interested to see that what I thought was going to happen has changed already.