How to Bypass Your Internal Editor

By Michael

When you edit your first draft, you’ll have all sorts of ideas of what to change. But when you write your first draft, you want to turn off the “internal editor” in your mind, that super-ego that looks over your shoulder and criticizes everything you do. Editing is different from writing. Most people can’t successfully do both at the same time. And when you do your first draft, you need to focus on writing.

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Here are some tips on disabling your internal editor until you’re ready to hear from it:

  • Make a personal policy to never hit the backspace key more than one. Then you will be able to fix typos but nothing else.
  • If that doesn’t work, refuse to hit the backspace key at all. Unless you’re a really bad typist, you will still be able to recognize the word you typed. I’ve actually written entire chapters in the dark, lying in bed with my ultra-light Alphasmart 2000 keyboard. And in the morning, almost everything I had typed was understandable.
  • If you have to, don’t write at all. Dictate onto a recording and type it up later. Don’t edit yourself as you speak, either. Never stop talking. If you can’t think of what to say next, just say anything until your train of thought returns to you.
  • Start writing with the easy part. Write about what you know best or what you are most passionate about. For example, if you’re writing a brochure or website for your business, start with the story of how and why you began the business or learned your skills. Before you know it, you may discover that you’ve also written about your product line and your unique selling proposition (USP).
  • Set yourself a speed goal. Tell yourself that you have to write a certain number of words a minute. Don’t judge the quality of your output. It may be hard at first, but it will get easier.

What if you hate what you wrote, and can’t stand to edit it? In that case, write it again. You wrote it fast the first time, right? You won’t lose much by doing it again. Just start from the beginning, or from where you got off the path, and keep going.

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8 Responses to “How to Bypass Your Internal Editor”

  • Michael Martine

    Excellent advice, especially the point on rewriting. In spite of the fact that I am loathe to entirely rewrite something, it is inevitably a much stronger piece if I do.

  • Bill Harper

    Another way to “bypass your internal editor” it to turn off the screen. When you’re typing blind you can’t see what you’ve written, so you really have no choice but to just plough ahead.

  • Jennifer

    I am trying to get so I can be more edited. I want to write some semi-professional material. Yeah semi….that is as hard core as I get lately.

    I have a really hard time editing. My personal site here has quite literally no editing. It is out of my mouth as I think it and almost no looking back for a least a week or to look what the heck are they commenting on in that post. LOL….

    Yeah, I do use spell check, but that is about it.

  • Daniel

    Bill, I will try turning my monitor off some day, thanks!

  • Cullen Bunn

    I’ve used an Alphasmart witgh quite a bit of success. I like that I can only see a couple of lines of text, so I’m not tempted to edit earlier paragraphs.

  • Kenneth W. Davis

    Great list, Michael! I’ve linked to it today from my blog.

  • Michael

    I’m so glad the article was helpful. My first exposure to this idea was through the National Novel Writing Month (November of each year), where thousands of writers all over the world create (very rough first draft) novels of 50,000 words or more in only one month. You can’t do that if your internal editor is constantly active.

  • putu

    I am a non native English speaker, but would like to learn more about writing in English. When I tried your tip about not touching the backspace and del key when writing the first draft, I made a lot of spelling mistakes. But I find writing easier now.

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