The older I get, the more I recognize my writing brain and my editing brain as two distinct parts of myself.
My writing brain is creative. It has all kinds of crazy ideas. This is the brain I need engaged when I’m working on a first draft. My writing brain is also highly sensitive. It can clam up in a heartbeat if it doesn’t feel enthusiastic support (and I mean stupidly enthusiastic).
This is why I don’t tell anyone what I’m working on until I have a first draft down on the page. When I have, in the past, shared an idea before it was a draft I have inevitably gotten discouraged. I don’t fully understand why, but it has to do with the energy I feel around an idea. Somehow talking about it dissipates that energy like a bubble popping and turning into stringy bits of soap scum.
But I can also get discouraged by my own damn self. My inner critic is loudest when I’m working on a first draft. And man, does it get loud. Thankfully, my mindfulness practice has helped me to tame that little voice. I’ve gotten quite good at acknowledging it, dismissing it, and continuing on with my writing.
It’s kind of like a little voicemail I’ve set up in my head. When my inner critic comes calling I just say “Thank you, but I’m not accepting criticism at this point. Please call back at a later time.”
Once I have a draft, then my hyper-critical editing brain takes over to help me make it better. I like to envision that my inner critic has been sitting in the corner, dejected and impatient, and then I turn to her and say, “let’s do this” and she gets so excited.
My editing brain is mean. I need it to be mean. I need it to read my work with the assumption that it sucks and then help me to see where I can improve it. Thankfully, she is really good at this.
She is also super tough. I am most resilient when I’m in editing mode. I can discuss the work with other people, hear their thoughts, take their feedback (usually) and hardly even cry at all (most of the time).
They Don’t Get Along
To be productive as a writer, I have to keep these two parts of my brain as far apart as possible. That’s why I tend to write through an entire draft without editing, then let it rest for a while, then take another pass at it.
If I’m in editing mode and decide to scrap something (say a chapter or scene) and have to rewrite from scratch I have a hell of time. I write a sentence and my inner critic tells me its crap, so I delete it. I do this over and over until I gradually re-engage my writing brain and tell my inner critic to sit down for a bit.
Even with shorter pieces, like this blog post or freelance work, Ideally, I need a night between writing and editing. I usually write the first draft, let it sit overnight, take a more critical pass at it, and then either repeat the process again, or call it done.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to be the boss of your own brain so you can write more effectively, check out my Sit Write Here coaching program. By integrating mindfulness practice into my writing training, I help writers overcome writer’s block and build a regular habit of writing so they can finally finish their book.
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