Friday Speak Out!: The Internal Editor Is Not The Enemy

Friday, December 19, 2014
by Kathleen Basi

The internal editor gets a bad rap, and not without reason. Writing requires a strong heart to withstand everything from tough critiques to the slush pile and the inevitable rejection letter. We certainly don’t need our own minds adding to the negative energy.

And yet I often think we’re too hard on the internal editor. After all, that mental whisper is the first one to tell us when the words flying from our fingers are filled with whining, posturing, or clich├ęs—not to mention when we’re just plain barking up the wrong tree. Most of us have seen plenty of things that could have used the TLC of a good internal editor. A well-trained IE, and a measured, thoughtful relationship with it, can save an author a lot of wasted time.

I’m a slow, methodical writer. I believe in letting things simmer--setting them aside when something doesn’t feel right, turning it over in my mind, talking things through out loud while I drive, do dishes, or fold laundry.

In other words, entering into conversation with the internal editor, who often turns out to be pretty smart.

Here are three things my IE has taught me:
1. The Brick Wall. If I get stuck on a sentence or a paragraph for longer than 10 minutes, there’s something fundamentally wrong with it. Usually it’s not supposed to be there at all, but occasionally I’m trying to force a metaphor and I just need to say it straight, or find a different one altogether.

2. The Don’t Rush It. When NaNoWriMo is leering in the web browser, it’s easy to give in to the pressure to write down anything, no matter how bad it is, just to get to a word count. But stopping to take a deep breath and problem solve at the front end can save a lot of time later, fixing things that shouldn’t have been there in the first place (refer to #1).

3. The “Don’t Just Tell Me It’s Bad, Tell Me Why.” The more I read and the more I study the craft of writing, the more I realize if the IE is nagging, it’s because I already know what the problem is. I just have to stop and think it through. Refer to #2.
So when my internal editor starts whispering generalized discouragement in my ear, I take a deep breath and turn my back on it. But when it points to something in my writing, I stop and listen. And I’m always glad I did.

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Kathleen Basi writes an award-winning column for Liguorian magazine as well as regular magazine features. She has published a trio of short nonfiction books for families, and her fiction and essay credits include The Storyteller, Apeiron Review, Chicken Soup for the Soul and NPR's All Things Considered. Her manuscript, THE WINE WIDOW, won third place in the WFWA's inaugural Rising Star contest in 2014. She can be found at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

I like number 3 a lot. Don't just tell me it's bad, tell me why. Could you please speak to my editor? LOL

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