A letter to my inner editor, before NaNoWriMo 2016

My dearest hyperactive inner editor,

I love you. You’re amazing. You’re so incredibly smart and so well attuned to good style. You have an eye for detail and an empathy with the reader that makes you so skilled at weeding out sentences that don’t work, spotting information that could be better structured, using punctuation to support the meaning and flow of a text. You can even follow ridiculous rules from Chicago that don’t make any sense (page numbers anyone?). Best of all, hyperactive inner editor, with these skills, you are keeping us fed, and housed, and clothed. After six years of struggling, of hustling, of trying to piece together enough money to keep body and soul together in an expensive city – a bit of freelancing here, a small scholarship there, a random side job at the university here, subletting our room to a friend and living somewhere cheaper for a summer there – after all this, your skills have finally got us an actual job. A job that pays our health insurance. A job with nice colleagues, who we are learning a lot from. A job that is part-time, which has given us so much extra time to take singing lessons, to read, to do yoga, to rest, to study the language of this country we now live in. After six years of studying for a PhD and hustling for money, this is such a relief – a little oasis of security with some spare time to put time into these other activities that make us feel human again (redressing the balance after the pendulum swung so much towards work and career and survival – did I know the difference between those three?) and giving us time to figure out what’s next. And what I suspect might be next, hyperactive inner editor, is going to be more opportunities for you to shine.

So, thank you. Thank you, hyperactive inner editor for everything you do. Hell, you’re so great at what you do that you convinced my employer to give us a job even though we were technically overqualified for it, even though it was the first job we applied for in this new country and we flung together the application in no time while recovering from the PhD (I think the two deadlines were within 15 days of each other) and starting an intensive language course. Go you. Hyperactive inner editor, you rock. You have marketable skills and you’re good at what you do. Keep going. Keep taking us forward.

I need to ask you a favour, though, hyperactive inner editor. The thing is, you don’t need to edit everything immediately, and sometimes you can jump in a bit too soon, when I’m not quite ready for you. I know we had this conversation several times during the PhD, and I promised you that once I’d got the words down on paper (virtually!), you could step in and revise. And remember? Remember when I let you split my favourite chapter into two, even though I could no longer open it with the vignette I wanted to, because it worked better as two chapters? Remember when you took the politics chapter from an unholy mess to a presentable chapter with an actual argument, two days before hand-in, on the bloody train? So even though I sometimes ask you to wait, I do need you later. It’s just that in order for there to be something for you to edit and revise, I need to write it first.

It’s been a while since we’ve written fiction, and I don’t know how much you ever got your teeth into what I wrote before. I don’t know if I got anything to the stage where there was much revising to be done. I do know, though, that we’re very out of practice right now, and a lot of what I’m writing is bad. Bad writing. Bad words. Guff. And if there’s one thing you hate, hyperactive inner editor, it’s bad writing. And I get it. So do I. I hate reading bad writing. I hate seeing that editors have let through bad writing. I hate that academics can get away with so much bad writing, even though I also understand why it’s our job as academics to push through the writing and get to the argument, and how the pressure to write good English excludes non-anglophone scholars who should be judged on the merit of their ideas, not the privilege of their birthplace or education. But I need to try writing fiction. I need to see what happens. I promise you – I promise you – that once I have a whole bunch of words down on the page, you can have your moment to shine. But I need to ask you to just step back and let me write badly first.

Can you do that? I know it goes against everything you believe. Maybe you could try and treat me with the compassion you treat the authors you correspond with? Believe that I’m doing the best I can. Trust that, once it’s time, I will listen to your advice and you can bring your excising, revising, comma-inserting expertise to make my raw novel one that someone might want to read. Because, hyperactive inner editor, this might be raw, it might be ‘bad’, but it’s real. I’m committing to writing 50,000 words in November, and they might be bad words. They might be terrible words. They might be the ugliest, most repetitive, most sentimental prose you have ever read. But they need to be out there. Because they come from inside me. From my emotional core. The things I care deeply about, the feelings I have, my love for my characters, for places, the things that make me angry. And good writing needs this emotional driving force, as much as it needs your excellent sense for style. The novels that we love, we love because they speak to us, they make us care, they make us sad, they make us angry, they make us disappointed when we feel that they’re nearly over. I need you to support this, not to stop it in its tracks. Can you do that? Because my god, hyperactive inner editor, you have had all the validation – all the validation – from doing that PhD and from doing this job and being the part of us that brings in an income. So I’m letting you take November off. You must be exhausted. Go and sit on the beach and drink margaritas and swim and read whatever you read for fun (style guides?) and flirt with some tanned, sexy inner editors of your preferred gender(s). Go for long walks. Do whatever you want to do. Let the rest of us carry the weight – the feelings, the opinions, the emotions, the passions. We need the practice and you deserve a rest. And I promise, when you get back, you can look at those 50,000 words with your critical, analytical eye and you can make them into something we wouldn’t be ashamed to show other people.

Thank you for everything you do.


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