Wednesday, December 3, 2008


The first and foremost rule of good writing is to strangle your editor.

Before those of you who clutch rejection letters to your chest get too excited, hear me out. Editors are wonderful, knowledgeable, frustrating, frustrated, underpaid, overworked, and your best friend when a book is launched. These are the human editors – the living, breathing folks who populate the hallowed halls of publishing houses from coast to coast. Drop your rejection letters, folks, because that’s not the sort of editor I’m suggesting we strangle.

Inside each writer, just to the left of the creativity spot and wedged tight against the spot where logic meets magic, is another sort of editor. This editor is mean, nasty, critical, opinionated, and the worst enemy your manuscript ever had. Okay, some of you may have met a few human ones who display these characteristics as well. I assure you, however, there is not a single editor alive – or no longer with us – who can do more harm to your writing than I. E., aka. your Internal Editor.

Each of us has an I.E. Each of us, unfortunately, listens to the nasty lass far more than we realize. Don’t think so? Well, what about the time you were typing away on a lovely story about a professional golfer who finds love at the local miniature golf course only to stop midway through the synopsis and toss the whole thing because the rule in romance is that professional sports figures are a “tough sell”. Did your sparkling plot begin to go dull when dear I.E. reminded you of that? Did you lose interest in what would have otherwise been a pretty good story and begin contemplating another with components straight from last months list of popular plots?
Doesn’t apply to you? Okay, what about this scenario? Brilliance of the greatest sort is flowing from your fingers, through the computer keys, and onto the screen, each word more perfect than the next until . . . oh my, the squiggly red line appears on the screen. Those of us who use “that program” know what I mean. You’ve misspelled a word. Now what? Two choices. Go back and fix the spelling or continue on and try to ignore the red line. Which will you do? In the instant – or longer –it takes to make that decision, there is a strong likelihood the flow of dazzling words has been reduced to a boring and uninteresting drip.
Questions come to mind – awful questions whispered straight from the mouth of I.E. herself. What did you mean when you typed that last sentence? Where were you going with that thought? Why do you bother writing a manuscript that’s not going to be sold? Why not do like your mother –or other significant friend or relative - said and get a real job?
Ever had those thoughts? I have. Can you get past them? Sure. The only cure is to shake the lovely Miss I.E. off your shoulder and get right back to work. Sometimes, however, it’s how we work that gets us into trouble.
I’m referring to the research junkie. I.E’s love research junkies. I would venture to guess that the research junkie is the best friend of the I.E. These are the writers who happily skip away from the computer – or navigate onto the Internet – mid-sentence to delve into the intricate differences in ladies’ undergarments in the seventeenth century rather than to complete the scene and research later. Have I caught some of you on this one? I confess I am guilty of this. Why wait to see what my latest research source says when I can come back to the scene once I have the information I need? The next thing the research junky realizes, hours have passed and she’s discovered far more than she ever wanted to know about her topic. She may have discovered plots for three more books down one of the rabbit trails of research. But has she done anything to get that other manuscript - the one that sent her running for the research sites in the first place - in print? Probably not.
The reason for staying to finish the writing, as opposed to changing the character, correcting the typo, or doing the research is simple. Anything that interrupts the flow of your manuscript is in danger of calling out the Internal Editor. Once that scoundrel is out of her cage, you’re going to have a time getting her back in, especially if she really likes you and wants to stick around. Beware if you are one of her favorite people – a perfectionist.
I.E’s love perfectionists. Perfectionists wear letter sweaters from I.E.U. Perfectionists - and believe me you know who you are - beg and plead with I.E. to sit on their shoulders and whisper into their ears while they type. When I.E. says, “Don’t use that word,” the perfectionist runs to the thesaurus. When I.E wants to know if they really had Colt revolvers in 1875, the perfectionist runs to the encyclopedia. When I.E. says that medieval painters make lousy heroes, the perfectionist turns her maker of masterpieces into a master of the sword.
What’s wrong with listening to dear I. E., you might ask? Doesn’t she keep us from making mistakes, misspelling words, or possibly writing something that won’t sell? Yes, actually, she does all those things and more. She also stops the flow of creativity, keeps you from writing something original and fresh, and just plain makes you forget where you were going and what you intended to do in a scene. She also steals your voice and forces you into cookie cutter writing that will have human editors rolling their eyes.
So what to do about I.E.? If only you could turn her off like you do the feature in “that program” that creates the squiggly red or green lines. Ignoring I.E. is tough but it can be done. First, literally turn off your computer’s editor. Get rid of those red or green lines. Perfectionists, this is where you promise yourself you’ll use that little check marked box to spell check just as soon as your writing day is done. Second, if you need more information on a topic and are fighting the urge to race off and find it, stop and place a big, fat, bold X in the spot and go on typing. If X isn’t your letter, then pick another, but keep your fingers moving until you’re done for the say. When the work is done and it’s time to fill in with your brilliant research material, just use the “find’ function on your word processing program to locate each spot where material is missing. Finally, make a promise to yourself that you will get the entire story down before you unleash your editor. To put it less than nicely, do as a friend of mine once stated: “Barf it out now and clean it up later.” Write now – write it all – then edit. Cut half the manuscript if you must. Change the plot, the characters, or even the voice, but save these changes for the second draft.
So, for those of you who’ve been listening to the whispers of a muse called I. E., I offer this final caveat. Take a chance and wing it. Close your friend the Internal Editor back up in her soundproof cage and dare to write – just write.
If you’ll strangle your Internal Editor, you just might write a manuscript that will acquire a real editor – the human kind.

Kathleen Y’Barbo is a tenth-generation Texan and a mother of three grown sons and a teenage daughter. She is the award-winning author of 35 novels and novellas including the just released Beloved Captive and, coming in 2009 The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper.
We are delighted to have her visiting today on Seekerville.


  1. Kathleen,

    You've made some terrific points here. I really needed this reminder today.


  2. Kathleen, welcome to Seekerville! Turning off my internal editor will surely require a wrench-toting, muscle-bound plumber. But I'll give it a try! Thanks for the arm-twisting post. :-)


  3. Oh! My! This is so good.
    So scary.

    So terribly frightening.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful pep talk!!

    I have been to your web site several times and it is DEEELIGHTFUL!!

    Welcome to Seekerville.

    Where are my manners, dear? We have cinnamon French Toast sticks with hot sliced apple, topping and whipped cream.

    Sweet tea of course and coffee.

  4. KATHLEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Welcome to Seekerville, darlin', and what a great post you brought with you today!! Thanks for sharing your valuable insight.

    And I have to tell you, I am 3/4 of the way through Beloved Castaway and I honestly carry it everywhere -- my purse, nightstand and yes ... right now it is in the bathroom next to my office for those brief moments of pleasure reading! I love your style and your characters, my friend, and I fully intend to purchase the entire series.


  5. Oh, Kathleen, you nailed me on all counts!!! I didn't realize how bad I was until I read about myself here! No wonder I write so slow! Ugh! I can never ignore a squiggly red line! In fact, I do all those things you listed.

    Okay, say a prayer for me. I'm going to try to turn off my I.E. today, break my fast from writing, and work on that unruly WIP.

    Oh, and I love your book covers! So lovely.

  6. Kathleen, I'm doing this.

    The X instead of ducking out of the manuscript for research.

    Turn off those squiggly lines.

    I never even considered this before. These are simple, practical things that can make a real difference in how many words I get down on paper.

    Plus, I have a sort of half-baked system for going back and checking places I know need to be tweaked, but just typing an X could work for several things.

    You have changed my life today.
    I'm going to start writing faster. :)

    Not faster than Cheryl Wyatt, but faster.

  7. Ow. Research junkie here.

    I'm going to read through that again and then get back to work, barfing it out and cleaning it up later, as you-all suggested.

  8. Yikes! My IE almost forced my fingers to click away from the page.
    The trouble with my IE is that she's always saying, No Adverbs! Or, wait, there needs to be an action here.
    What a great post. I was just remembering my first manuscript and how much I enjoyed writing it because this IE hadn't matured yet.
    Funny post.
    I'll try to take your advice.

  9. Kathleen,

    That was just what I needed. My IE is a strong lady that has taken over lately. It's time to kick her to the curb! I will be turning off the computer editor and I love the x idea. Thank you so much for that swift kick in the bottom, time to get things done :)

  10. Who knew I'd be changing lives before 10AM! I'm usually not even changed out of my pajamas before then!

    Bless you all, ladies!

    Thanks so much for the warm welcome. And Janet, if you find that muscle bound plumber and he's single, send him my way. I'm looking for a new hero! :D


  11. Hi Kathleen;

    I’d liked to testify to your ideas. I just finished a philosophy novel (as opposed to a fiction novel) that has been trying to get out of my head and on to paper for at least 12 years. I did this in 30 days, during the Novel in a Month contest, by doing exactly what you said. Everything came out un-criticized and unedited and now it is just a job for the IE. I had one variation, however, which sped things up: I just made up ‘facts’ that I thought research would later support and then I highlighted that copy in yellow. I wanted areas where I just made up the facts to be highlighted as a warning to the IE. The novel is out and now I just have about an eleven month editing job to clean it up. In the meantime, I can now start the book I am most interested in publishing without the guilty feeling that I am neglecting my philosophy novel.

    BTW, I love the covers of your books.

    Great post! You’d make a wonderful ‘brainstormer’ (there is a red wiggle line under brainstormer but if brainstorm is a good word then brainstormer is one too.) in a creative advertising session!


  12. Ahhh... now THIS is what I call wise, sound suggestions! I am not a professional writer... yet... but I know these points made here today are exactly true and what we need. I even apply this to my Bible Study. Can I study without running off to the nearest concordance to check out the meaning of every other word or even one per sentance without getting totally side tracked? Then there are the cares of the world that sneak into the thoughts that just NEED to be checked out right NOW. NOT. I have started making thought lists on a paper close by to follow up on later and found that I get much better thought flow from scripture when my brain isn't being bombarded with these other chores and responsibilities. The rest will follow once I seek Him first. Though I have taken your principles and applied them to my Bible Study, I totally appeciate what you said because I KNOW you are right. Focus and then fine tune. Great, Kathleen!
    Pam W
    cepjwms at yahoo dot com

  13. Welcome to Seekerville, Kathleen! Good advice all around, but I'm afraid my IE is permanently attached to my shoulder. The era of instant Internet access has not helped. One click and I can Google just about any info I suddenly realize I need.

    As for squiggly lines, I learned a long time ago to shut off Word's grammar checker--puhleeze! Spell check stays on, though, and I love my computer dictionary and thesaurus. What can I say? Old habits die hard.

    Pass me a cinnamon stick.

  14. (Clutching my rejection letters in both fists)

    You mean we can't strangle our outer editors- only our inner editors?!?!

    Well, I guess we have to start somewhere... :)

    Thanks for the post!

  15. I don't think I know how to shut off the grammar editor.

    I'll go figure it out, but I just thought I'd mention it here to make Myra feel superior. We all do that on Seekerville. We're all happier if Myra is happy.

    Learned that the hard way.

  16. Kathleen,
    Great post!!! I, too, have a very active IE. She usually tells me I can't write a twit. She's also a perfectionist who would be thrilled if I spent three to four weeks on the first paragraph!

    So . . . I write the first/very rough draft on my Alpha Smart. With few functions and only an inch or so of visible text, the Alpha forces me to move forward.

    Love the "X" and also the "Barf" line! Two jewels to treasure for sure!

  17. Kathleen! ARRRGH ME TABLE MAYTEE!!

    SO great to have you here! I LOVED this article and laughed at the title.

    Most people who know me can attest to that I have no problem turning off my internal editor. In fact, as Camy puts it, I pretty much just open my creative mouth and urp all over the page. LOL! GRoss but true.

    My problem is turning the editor back on during the layering and proofreading phases. LOL!

    Loved your post.

    If anyone hasn't read Beloved Castaway...GET IT! It's SO good.

    Can't wait to dive into the next book.


  18. Hi Kathleen, when I first read the title of this blog on my bloglist, I did a double-take to ensure it was Seekerville. (We're talking about the power word 'strangle' here, eh.)

    My next thought was, but I don't have an editor, yet. (sniff)

    But, because I just can't pass up a Seeker post, I pulled it up and am I glad I did.

    I'm with Vince in that I write something to remind me what I wanted to say and then highlight it to be researched during revisions.

    I love NaNoWriMo although unfortunately, I had to drop out this year dur to other writing commitments. But, NaNo is where I learned to shut off my IE and just write. Yes, it is freeing.

    Now, if I could just feel the same about those revisions...

  19. Wonderful post!

    I participated in NaNoWriMo this past month, and our local group leader had us draw a picture of our I.E. and then seal her in an envelope not to be opened until our NaNo novel was completed. Silly exercise but you don't know how often I would grimace at something I'd just written, wanting so badly to go back and edit, but I'd glance over at that envelope all stuck up with tape and a cartoon padlock and then press on. (Of course I had to stick my tongue out at the envelope from time to time too. Juvenile, but so satisfying.)

  20. I love what Erica's NANO whatchamacallit leader did. Get that visual. Draw your editor. Find a picture. Make up one. Whatever. Then stuff it/him/her in an envelope and seal that sucker up. Duct tape it if you have to. Even then, might want to slip it under your foot while you're typing. Or, if you're a laptop in the recliner sort of writer, SIT ON IT.

    Ah the images that conjures up!



  21. Yes, yes, and YES, Kathleen!! You hit the nail on the head about IE stealing all your creativity! Ooo, self doubt is such a fun-sucker!

    I, too, am a research junkie. Spent hours of writing time researching Russian nuclear subs, only to have muse move on before I could barf it all out. Ouch. You so know it, girlfriend!!

    Hmm, anyone have anything decent to snack on? I'm trying to be good and consuming raspberries by the cartonful, but what I was really hoping for was some decadent chocolate????

    Thanks so much for your reconfirming words of wisdom!

  22. Hi Kathleen, Welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for joining us and reminding us that we need to be strangled once in awhile. I personally love my Alpha smart because it is a pain to edit so I get to the creative part and save the editing for later. I have to do that because like Myra, I can't shut the blasted i.e. off. I'm sooooo left brain. But that means I do love revising and editing. So fun.

    Audra, I just went to the Sees Distribution Center and picked up fifteen boxes of chocolates. We get them 40% off there for being a public servant. smile I'll send you some. I got the dark soft centers, the nuts and chews and the assorted. I did buy for me the peppermint patties but alas I can't share those. Well I could, but no. They make great gifts.

    Which btw, autographed books make great gifts too. Hey you Seekers that are off unpubbed island. Do you have book plates we can put in the books we buy for gifts? I know they make clear ones so your autograph looks just like it was written on the paper.

  23. Erica, love sealing IE in an envelope!!! So cool!

  24. Oh, my, Kathleen, you got me pegged!! I'm the perfectionist!! But I'm learning to chill some. Today I highlighted a blank section to go back to later. I resisted fretting over it too long. :)

    Thanks so much for being with us today! I loved your post. And it was a great reminder.

  25. One word of caution about filling in words to change later.

    Once while under a nonfiction deadline, I was afraid I would forget one of my points of information. I wasn't ready to write it so I cut and pasted a couple of paragraphs about it from Wikopedia.

    Somewhere along the line, I submitted the story with the Wikopedia info. Maybe a day after, I remembered in one of those middle-of-the-night moments of clarity.

    I had a relationship with the editor and simply told them I needed to replace some paragraphs. It was no problem. But I think the X idea is a good one! There's always a chance you won't get back to fix things.

  26. Jessica, I do the same thing! I'll be typing along, and I'll think, "Oh, that's too many lines of dialogue. I need some action or a reaction here..."

    It really slows me down.

  27. Mary. Are you implying I'm hard to live with???

    FYI, open Word. Select Preferences from the drop-down menu. Select Grammer & Spelling. UNcheck the grammar checking box. Taaa-daaaa!

  28. You know, this is really good stuff. I usually lock my IE in a trunk in my mind until the moment I'm feeling generous and let her out of air. :-) I recently completed the NaNoWriMo challenge-write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You really have to reign in the editor in order to accomplish the task--which I did and came away with a fantastic backbone for a novel :-). Anyway, thanks for the advice!


  29. Wow. That was a wonderful post!

    I am a research junkie. Right now I am working on my historical romance set in WW2. The heroine is in the Army Nurse Corps and the hero is a German officer. Whew. I freak out about writing anything because "I don't know about this or this or if they did this or this..."

    Thank you for liberating me! ;-)