no, your editor is not out to get you

Editing seems to get a bad reputation in the circle of writers near me, especially those just starting or those trying to get back to their feet. You know how the advice goes: Turn your inner editor off and get on writing!

I’m getting that advice a lot.

Which is good advice, really. I wouldn’t be writing anything at all otherwise, because my inner editor is very loud and terribly distracting.

That being said, let me also tell you this: Your editors aren’t out to get you. Not the real ones, and possibly not even the one in your head.

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find your way

If there was one thing that I was sure that I had always wanted since I was young, it was to write.

When I was younger (oh, a long time ago now, it feels like the distant past) I could write on and on and on, my handwriting a messy scrawl across pages and pages and pages. I was self-conscious about it — I almost never showed any of it to anyone. Handing in writing assignments was almost physically painful since it felt like I was giving a piece of myself away, but still I wrote.

Somewhere along the way, I grew up. I couldn’t write for myself any more, not even in hidden paper journals I’d never show anyone, or locked blogs only accessible to me, or password protected documents in password protected computers. The spark was gone, and I couldn’t find it no matter how hard I looked.

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“But that’s not the point at all,” she said in exasperation.

I’m still thinking more about writing than actually writing, and I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of inspiration or the fear of committing words to paper that’s stopping me.

So what’s an aspiring writer with no inspiration to do when faced with a blank screen? Go to Pinterest, of course.

(Not the best of ideas, really. It’s an awful time-sink, even if you do learn a few things.)

It probably would have helped more if I was actually looking for things that I hoped to inspire me instead of searching for writing tips, which ended up being a bit overwhelming. Some of these things I already knew, either from experience or from a lot of reading (funny how “read a lot” is rarely mentioned as a tip), but quite a few were new to me. I’ve never even considered finding tips on how to write faster (I have trouble starting; seems silly to worry about speed at this point), or how to use a worksheet for everything (I dislike worksheets, so this one will probably not work), or how to use Excel to map out your plot and monitor your word count (which probably will work for me because I like spreadsheets, especially if I can collate the data into something meaningful).

I noticed that the most prevalent pin is of the “don’t use ___, use these words instead” variety. ‘Said’ is often the victim here. I end up wincing each time I see a variation of the advice. The thesaurus is a great and wonderful thing, but using it to find synonyms for the word said is not what it’s for.

There’s nothing wrong with ‘said’. Your characters can’t go around exclaiming and shouting and whispering and hollering and mumbling and rebuking all the time.  I get especially twitchy when characters ‘opine’ things. It’s a terrible dialogue tag, even when someone is giving his opinion.

‘Said’ is fine. The reader generally skips the ‘he said’, ‘she said’ tags in dialogue; it’s like they’re invisible, almost, since it’s what the reader expects.  An adverb after ‘said’ is fine every now and then. Those other, more descriptive words are fine, too, but like most things, they are best used in moderation.

Hah, that feels a bit heavy handed now, considering the last time I shared anything I wrote that had dialogue in it was ages ago. Let’s see if I’ll manage to follow my own advice.

I keep thinking about using another set of prompts for writing fiction, but I’m not sure if writing in spurts and starts of not-quite-related scenes is the best way to get on with it.

(This is me trying to find more zing for my writing, but ending up with a commentary on writing tips instead. It feels vaguely like cheating, since I wouldn’t usually use the word zing that way — I’m more likely to use it describing something whizzing by very fast. Oh well. I’ll get there someday.)