This post is dedicated to all writers participating in NANOWRIMO. I hope you find this technique as liberating as I have. Good luck in November.
We all know that moment, we are typing merrily away, words tumbling from our fingers and flying on to the page, then it happens.
Maybe it is a word, not quite right, too long, too simple, too obscure. You don’t know what exactly is wrong. However, its wrong and it’s wrong on your page.
Maybe it’s the grammar, something clunky about the sentence, perhaps the subject or the verb, maybe the tense or simply the spelling. So now if you just…
What happens next is that we drop into edit mode, your inner critic takes over and all the creative flow drains away whilst we correct, fiddle, adjust, rearrange, and agonise over word choice. The wonderful creativity has dried up and it can be many minutes before it again comes back on stream.
Time and time again I see the same sage advice telling us that when we are in full creative flow we should ignore spelling, grammar, style errors and instead concentrate on getting the story down, to let the words pour out of us. That the time to correct these things is later, not now. To do it when the fantastic creative rush is over, to correct when we are wearing a different hat, the hat of an editor.
Can I follow that advice? When I see red squiggles two lines up or maybe “the the” just above my cursor, can I leave them alone? What about the worse situation when the current word is just plain wrong, do I plough on and leave it alone? And what should I do when a plot hole opens up beneath my character, making nonsense of my entire scene?
Can I follow that advice? No I can’t.
My inner critic screams and I drop into editor mode and fiddle. I can’t stop myself, it needs to be fixed and in so doing I murder my writing speed and slaughter my creative sibling previously occupying my mind.
However, there is a neat trick that I have learned, one that can fence off your inner critic and stop him/her from jumping in and destroying your creative flow. This trick revolves around two things. The first is;
- Give yourself permission, via bargaining, to edit it later.
And the second is;
- Guarantee that promise with a promissory, in this case the hash symbol #.
It works like this; when you hit a point where the inner critic jumps up and demands a correction or improvement, strike a bargain with him/her and agree to make that particular correction later. To prove your sincerity mark the offending word with a hash mark. Here is an example;
“Magnus watched the Roman legions and waited for the officer as he climbed…”
but “officer” is wrong in this historical context and so your inner critic screams.
Now bargain with him/her, promise to research it later and mark the word like this;
“Magnus watched the Roman legions and waited for the officer# as he climbed…”
Your critic will be happy that the correction is marked and therefore “in progress”, so he/she leaves you alone and allows you to write about the evil treachery that Marcus is about to perform.
Yes, it is a trick but it is a trick that works, by giving your brain this promissory token of the hash marked word, your internal critic becomes placated and allows your creative mind to continue to work uninterrupted. Then when eventually you don the editor’s hat, the text search tool instantly finds all instances of “#” in your work, and so it is easy and quick to find and fix the marked problems. Additionally since you are now in full editor mode the quality of your corrections will be far higher.
The hash mark doesn’t stop at being useful with word choice, earlier I mentioned the appearance of sudden plot holes. Maybe your protagonist now needs to fly a plane and this skill has never been mentioned before this point. Just pop down a hash mark and a note e.g.
“#note; Foreshadow Reginald’s flying skills in early chapters.”
This enables you to carry on and write about Reginald’s daring escape, and allows you to completely forget the issue until it resurfaces whilst searching for hash marks whilst editing.
The unknown is another place the hash mark can be useful. Suppose your heroine has performed one heroic feat and she is about to perform a second related one in a different location. Unfortunately for you, at the moment you haven’t a clue on how she will get to the next location but you do know all about and do want to write all about, the next heroic feat at the second location. To stop the drudgery of writing the necessary linking prose from destroying your creativity, then put it on hold by using a hash mark. For example;
“#note; Lots of trouble travelling to location two, make sure she arrives extremely tired and minus her weapons.”
Now the hash mark will flag it during each edit until you are ready to write it. There is no longer a need to rush writing it because there is now a little hash mark secretary, one who will during editing searches, tap repeatedly on your shoulder until the right words arrive.
Whether it is dates, spelling, points of grammar, statistics, names, word choice, sizes, seasons, etc. Whenever something starts to break your writing flow, simply pop down a hash mark and promise your critical inner sibling “we will come back to that later” and carry on.
Photo credit: Picture-20-500×303 www.funnytypos.com, by not-stated.
“How to keep writing when your inner critic screams” by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.