Killing the Editor

In addition to spending an inordinate amount of time puzzling over commas and capitalization, I am a writer. I remember once talking to a copyeditor—long before I knew what I would do with my wordy self—who told me that she just turned off her copyeditor brain and wrote when she needed to. I stared at the Chicago Manual of Style behind her desk and wondered how exactly that was done.

When I went freelance, I thought I’d write every morning and work on editing from noon until the wee hours of the morning. My plan did not take into consideration my inability to copyedit effectively after 7 pm. Nor did it take into account the gnawing anxiety and guilt that comes with working for yourself. It was much the way I felt in college: whenever I wasn’t studying I felt guilty. (Note: Not that I caved in to the guilt, I just felt it.)

Finally I realized, as all writers need to, that that nonfiction/poetry/fiction book just wasn’t going to write itself. I no longer wrote with intensity and longing for an hour before I went to work. I was editing at 8 in the morning, and by 4 pm, I was beat. The thought of sitting at the computer for another minute made washing dishes seem appealing.

And so I started feeling homicidal. Bitter. Unfulfilled. My relationship was going well, I was still talking to all my friends, and the three-pound, nineteen-year-old Kitty was still eating. Where were those feelings of despair coming from?

During that time I tutored someone in creative writing. While I was helping the kid with his essays, I was all there. I had no nagging self-doubts. I could clearly see what he needed to do. And then I dreamed about it later. Oh. All this angst? It was about writing.

And so for the past several months I have been trying properly to write and work on a book-length work (52 pages, people, yay!). I use my guilt against myself. What! You haven’t written in three days? That’s just bad. You need to write.

I’ve resorted to dishonesty. No one respects your time when you say you’re writing. So, instead, I tell everyone I’m working. It’s all in Word documents. No one cares. And people are much less likely to interrupt me.

I signed up for a class. So now I have deadlines and encouragement. I’ve been writing for years and even have a goddmaned MFA, but sometimes you still need deadlines and encouragement.

So it turns out I didn’t have to kill the editor in order to write (I tend not to worry about spelling and grammar, etc., when I write; I type “teh” more often than I type “the”); I had to kill the freelance editor. I had to kill the guilt and fear. And this week it’s working. We’ll see about next week.

How do you guys make it all work?

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3 responses to “Killing the Editor

  1. I steal a day now and then, play hooky from the editing, prepare for it by immersing myself in characters and plot the night before. Then for one whole day I’m a writer. For now, it’s enough. Editing pays the bills but it doesn’t feed the soul.

  2. you are right when u say deadlines and encouragement is good for writing. when u work for yourself its much harder and more ungrateful. all the more whne u are so critical of yourself. that make sit even much harder. you shouldnt feel such pressure, but enjoyment. but then, no good writing comes from pleasure

  3. @JJ, my blog is proof of that. Although editing is more soul-feeding than some other jobs I’ve had.

    @saigon, you hit the nail on the head. You can’t hate yourself all the time for not writing, but sometimes you have to hate yourself a little if that’s what it takes to get up off the damn couch, away from the tv, and write.

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