One of the most important lessons a writer can learn is to not overthink it. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to self-editing and figuring out how to wrangle our inner bully editor is key to our growth.
If you find yourself regularly fighting with that inner voice telling you to start over, rewrite that sentence you’ve already rewritten 20 times or approach the story from a completely different angle, it can be hard work to pick yourself up again for each new piece.
It’s an exercise in torture (kidding, sort of). Truly, though, it’s a major time suck.
Here are some tactics we’ve learned to help embrace the discomfort. These nine reminders can help you write stronger pieces, and way more often. They can also help you become a better, no-holds-barred editor of other people’s work.
How to Work With (Not Against) Your Inner Editor
1. Admit you have a problem.
One of the best ways to write better and faster is to admit to yourself and fellow writers that you’re struggling. I’ve lost count of the number of times a colleague was able to help in just a few moments after I’d been wrestling with a tricky sentence for what felt like forever.
It will help you hold yourself accountable and beat down that voice in your head. Plus, your writing crew may offer some good tips they’ve learned to help you overcome.
2. Think about the story before you write, not just during.
Some of the best ideas for how to frame a story can come to you while doing something completely unrelated, like driving or walking around the house or office.
To prevent falling victim to memory loss, jot down these thoughts as soon as you can on your phone or computer or in a notebook if you have one handy (not while driving, of course).
Even if you’re not planning on writing the story any time soon, this practice can help you dive right in when you are ready. It helps you start off on the right foot, reigniting those light bulb moments to write more efficiently.
3. Fake it ’til you make it.
It’s your job to churn out killer work. The people are waiting for your next great piece, so you better get to it.
You need to get in the right mindset. By faking writer confidence and shifting your mentality to what you aspire to be, you may gain the nerve to power through and meet your goals.
4. Adopt a new mantra: Write or die.
For some writers, the best solution is to increase the pressure by tightening the deadline. Turning up the heat can reveal your rawest and most authentic writing.
It helps you get out of your own way.
5. Recognize when it’s time to abandon ship.
Depending on your mood or personality, tightened deadlines could be the wrong approach. Increased pressure can sink some people’s ships.
If the stress and overthinking have you staring at a blank screen longer than usual, decrease the pressure and take a walk.
You can always start again later.
6. Use placeholders when you just can’t find the right words.
Instead of hovering over a sentence until the sun goes down, implement a fill-in strategy that helps you move beyond writer’s block.
This is my secret writer superpower. Except it’s not so secret.
As a young magazine writer, I was trained to write “TK” to indicate that information or text is “to come.” Use this tactic — or “TBD” or “fill in” — when you can’t find the right words and keep writing like nothing ever happened.
It’s against our nature to leave blank spaces — especially as writers. But with some practice, this will allow you to continue forward without breaking your flow.
7. If you have a real editor, trust that they will help you.
Some writers have a hard time trusting their editors. But it’s super freeing when you do.
My ideal scenario is to hand every piece to my editor with little work to be done (and I’m sure she agrees). But it’s not realistic.
Allow yourself to sometimes turn in work in a less-than-perfect state. Editors usually love to wield their red pen and work their magic.
Just don’t make it a habit to send sloppy copy, or your new BFF will become your mortal enemy.
8. Capitalize on the moments when the words just flow.
When the words are flowing with ease, wrap an extra story or two. Or use that momentum to outline some other ideas you’ve been sitting on.
Just. Keep. Going.
Racking up those extra (unplanned) bylines will help boost your confidence and get you the practice you need to write more freely.
9. Treat your inner editor like an actual person who works for you.
Your inner editor is now a staff member.
As long as they’re an asset, you can keep them on board. If they have bad writing habits, it’s time to coach them out.
Most of the time though, they can be trained. So keep a watchful eye on your inner editor to make sure they aren’t harming your bottom line: to get more writing done.