A to Z Challenge: Internal Frenemies

For C-day, I introduced you the third most dangerous creature to your muse.

Today, I’m introducing you to the first two.

They’re terrible. Terrifying. And they’ll ruthlessly efficient in making your words churn to a stop. Problem is, the shovel-solution won’t work. Well it would, but it won’t help you write. Because… well… you’ll be passed out.

And you’ll wake up with a concussion.

The reason is that your two worst threats live inside you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to:

Name: Inner Censor
Race: Inner voice
Class: Destroyer of creativity
Language: Censorship

Description: The inner censor functions by making you doubt that anything you’ve written should see the light of day. “Take out that curse word!”, “The story is too violent.”, “Do you really think anyone would read this?” are common cries by this voice.

Then there’s its little friend.

Name: Inner Editor
Race: Inner voice
Class: Creator of doubt
Language: Questions

Description: Inner editors thrive on weaknesses on your writing. The more you listen, the louder the voice becomes. “This character is two dimensional.”, “This plot point is weak.” and “There’s not enough conflict” are common cries.

Why would inner voices be so dangerous?

More than half the time they speak, they’re right. Or at least, right enough that you might want to listen to them. And then… you “fix” your book.

Which more often than not weakens the story. I mean… Imagine if Suzanne Collins made The Hunger Games less violent. Wouldn’t quite pack the same punch, would it? Or J.K. Rowling. “You’re writing a series starting as MG that goes over into YA. ARE YOU INSANE???”

The inner editor’s threat seems smaller, but time and time again, I used to destroy my story’s soul in first draft because I “fixed” stuff my inner editor pointed out.

So what do you do with these frenemies? It’s actually difficult. And it depends on your writing method. I lock them up until after my rewrite. That way, I can focus on discovering the story without worrying about anything else.

Once revisions start, though, I let the censor and editor out. And then I listen to their complaints. I measure them on their merit. Some, I actually do take into account and I adjust my story accordingly after edits. Others, I just say: sorry… but I disagree. And then I ignore it.

Usually, the bits I did change is enough to keep them at peace during edits.

Still, I suspect everyone deals with their internal frenemies in their own way. So, veteran novelists, please share your methods so the new kids can pick up some tips?

And new kids, feel free to ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer. And vets, you’re welcome to answer them too.


31 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Internal Frenemies

  1. I think inner Critic deserves the chance to say its say, as long as it respects the opinions of Dreamer and Realist. These are the archetypes (and roles) that Walt Disney describes in his Model of Creativity. I treat my 'little voice' accordingly. Great blog post, Misha.

  2. Great post, Misha. Turning off the inner editor was the key for me in rediscovering my muse.

    I did Nanowrimo for the first time last year and that single piece of advice was the main reason I hit my target, and the reason that I have since finished a number of short stories. Now, I only care about finishing the first draft – get it out there – and THEN do the edit and rewrite. It has literally changed my whole approach to writing.

    I talked about this in a post just after doing Nano, but I am also revisiting a similar theme for my 'K' post in a couple of days – Keep Moving, Write or Die. Love your posts, thanks.

  3. That inner voice is the reason I can't sit down and get anything accomplished. I'm going to try to do the Nano next time and see if I can't lock way my inner voice for a bit, just to see what ends up coming out. Thanks for this!

  4. I hate those little voices. I keep telling them to shut up and go sit in the corner (mostly they reply with “If you could make me sit down, then I'm sure you'd be able to write a real sentence, too.”)

    anyhow, those dangerous creatures have ruined the fun for a lot of people (even now I'm bouncing around the room trying to fight them off).

  5. I always told my university students to keep writing and do not stop. Do not pass go, do not pass $200, I would jokingly tell them. Just keep moving straight on to the end, then go back and revise. Unfortunately, I am an obsessive revisionist and every time I sit down to my computer I start editing! I am getting better at censoring my inner censor, but it's not easy!

  6. I am sorry, I know they are very serious problems, but I can't help to laugh as I imagine myself sitting in a conference room with those two, all speaking at the same time and trying to shut the other up.

  7. oh these demons! How right you are (you always are). I read a book published in the 1920s – Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. She tackles this very problem. (I might've read the book, but I still get those awful voices telling me I write rot!)

  8. Internal frenemies- what a clever phrase. When I have an internal frenemy saying dumb things, I try my best to ignore her. She doesn't know my story the way I do.

  9. You classified those Internal over-analysts perfectly. They're capable of draining the vigour from the writer and the writing. It's a good job there are true and supportive friends who can help us put them in their proper places. 😉

  10. Another great post! My frenemies are keeping me from getting to work at all. I have most of what I want written (as it is memoirish…so I here a lot of “what makes you think you are fascinating enough self?”) it just needs to be edited and organized and THEN read through…yikes! By the time we get to z though, i think you might have me on my way!

  11. I read a really great book today and couldn't help noticing things that people in my writing group would have picked apart like birds on roadkill. But it worked. That reminds me that as writers, we need to be true to ourselves, not try to please everyone.

  12. Thank you so much for saying not everyone deals with their frenemies in the same way. I keep my IC on ice until revisions, but my IE is at work from draft one. I'm a pantser and working with the words, rearranging plot elements, going back and adding depth and turns of phrases as they come to me, gives me a richer, deeper story. I get so tired of others telling me to turn off my IE and just write. I did that with my second novel and it ended up taking me twice as long to write.

    ~VR Barkowski

  13. Sometimes the whispering of self-doubt becomes more of a yelling to get a life, but I'm good at ignoring shouting. I have three boys in my house.

  14. I'm on my second draft, and you would think these frenemies would be helping me, but . . . I found myself at a standstill. So I went back to a character profile sheet because there's something about my mc that's been bugging me. (and yes, book 1 is already out and yet my mc is still bugging me) Then I went to my kids (they are my very first beta readers and sometimes the ones that I throw ideas around with plus they are into YA so it helps). I asked them some questions about my mc – what do you think her greatest strength is? Her greatest weakness? It's scary to ask, because these are basics I should know really well by now, but for some reason I felt like I lost touch with my MC in revision mode.
    So, sometimes the frenemies get to me in revision, and sometimes, if it helps me strengthen my characters, it's a good thing.

    BTW, some of my kids ideas are hilarious too . . .they told me that a plot possibility in book 2 could include an ensorcelled character turning into a whale who would swallow one of my characters, conveniently transport her to another land, and then vomit her out to fight the bad guys. They were joking at that point, and we all had a good laugh.

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