Pretend You Don’t Know

When you’re editing your manuscript, read it though, at least once, as if you know NOTHING about your story.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own heads when we write, especially during the first draft. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to catch errors and inconsistencies you have to not only get critical, you have to suspend your own imagination and forget–temporarily–everything you know about your own story.

Crazy talk, I know.

But doing that changes your perspective and can give you insights you might not otherwise have.

But one of the hardest lessons I learned in my college poetry classes was not to make internal references or “inside jokes.” I might get the reference but someone who doesn’t know me sure as shit won’t.

The same thing applies to fiction. Readers can’t read minds. You might write something that makes total sense to you either because you get the joke or you know what’s going to happen three chapters or three books down the road.

Your readers don’t know these things. They might get confused. They might stop reading.

It also shows you things that you might take for granted. For example: does everyone know werewolves are bothered by silver? Does everyone know what necromancy is?

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to spell out every little detail, dumb your writing down, or waste pages with info dumps but it is important to be mindful of what expectations you are putting on your reader and if those expectations help or hinder your story.

Looking at your manuscript this way doesn’t just help fill plot holes. It can show you ways to enhance your narrative structure.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I love prologues.

I know AuthorTubers and many a podcast host tell you to avoid prologues like the plague. But I’m one of those weird people who love reading prologues so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m gonna write a prologue and it’s going to be my MC, Regina, reporting on the death of another character. And it’s going to be awesome.”

Well, I gave the manuscript to one of my beta readers and she didn’t like it. She has no idea who was talking and no idea who these characters were. Because there was no context. I knew what was going on because I have the WHOLE STORY in my head. She didn’t. And it didn’t work for her.

Then another beta reader said the same thing. And I was sad…because I made the thing and would have to change the thing.

If one beta reader has an opinion you can take it with a pinch of salt. But if more than one person has the same problem, the problem doesn’t come from their interpretations or expectations, it comes from your writing.

And I thought, “Well, what if I make it an INTERLUDE instead?”

And that works so much better because by the time this character needs to die you, the reader, know a little bit more about the world and can follow along with the MC and learn the WHY and HOW without getting confused.

So now, whenever I’m editing I always make a plan to read through whatever I’m working on as if I have no idea what’s going on. This helps me get into the mind of a reader and I can think about what kinds of things I, as a reader, would want to know.

I recommend that at least once you read through your manuscript and pretend you have no idea what’s going on. See what happens.

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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Editing As You Write

I have a habit of opening up my draft and re-reading and editing what I’ve already written before I start writing new content. It’s not a BAD habit, sometimes I need to remind myself where I left off or remind myself of the tone I was going for but then something happens where I get bogged down and by the time I get to the end of the text I lose momentum/motivation and don’t want to write anything new.

(Writing, reading, and editing poetry is very different for me.)

And then I get upset at myself because how can I ever not want to write?

I think personally when I go back and re-read something I feel like I have to make it perfect in my head before I can move on to the next part. Because if the first part isn’t 100% right how can I write the next part? Or the next?

I write in chunks and spurts, I don’t have a routine where I write every day. But the time where I wrote the most in one chunk was when I forced myself to not edit what I wrote in my previous sessions.

It’s really hard not to, but I find the results (writing more words) more rewarding than the instant gratification of “fixing” something.

Try it some time. Don’t edit. Just open up your word doc and keep going.

My Inner Editor

My inner editor looks like me only a little older, she is future me yelling at present me for all the mistakes I will make when I start writing.

On the plus side, my inner editor knows her stuff. She knows how to catch mistakes and detach herself well enough to catch most plot holes and inconsistencies.

On the minus side, I do this to myself every day; I am constantly berating and bullying myself–my past self–for the mistakes I made. Sometimes they’re yesterday’s mistakes but mostly they’re mistakes I made YEARS ago that probably no one remembers or even cares about anymore. No one but me.

So my inner editor is a reflection of one of my worst habits, which is self-bullying.

I love writing. I love it so much I don’t care if I’m “good” or “bad” at it. I think if you love something and it gives you joy you should do it regardless of what standards the “industry,” society, or whoever else you value holds you to. So why do I constantly tell myself this isn’t good or that isn’t good or something similar? Why do I do that so much that approaching my keyboard and the blank page becomes daunting and I get no enjoyment from the thing that used to keep me going during really tough bouts of depression?

It’s irrational and it’s mean. And I’ve often found that I have been meaner to myself than anyone else has been. So why do I do that?

I think partly because I’m not mindful enough, I’d rather think about all the things I have to do and get mildly anxious about not having enough time to do all the things than actually doing all the things. Because I’m scared that when the thing is done it won’t be good.

But if the thing isn’t good I can fix it because it’s MY thing and I have that power. So why do I still behave so irrationally?

Years of doing it and I don’t know how to stop? A little nervousness and discomfort is healthy?

You can’t have happy without suffering but this is definitely unnecessary suffering.

One of the things I like about National Novel Writing Month is that the pace keeps you so busy you don’t have time to indulge in those negative thoughts. Especially if you have things to do outside of writing, like raising another human being or paying the bills.

While your inner editor is a good thing to have on hand it definitely has its place and editing/revising is different from creating content. Yes you can edit as you create and sometimes that’s the best thing to do but other times it can slow you down and discourage you. You have to find a happy medium and it’s really hard to do that sometimes because feelings and desires.

I try my best to ignore my inner editor or tell her, “Hey, that’s cool, I’ll get to it later.” And when she screams at me to do it now I slam a door in her face. I don’t know if that’s the healthiest way to cope with my self-bullying because those thoughts always come back but it’s something that works for now.

The things I try to keep telling myself when I feel like I can’t do it anymore are:

YOU WANT TO WRITE.

YOU LIKE YOUR STORY, YOU WANT TO TELL IT.

YOU ARE HAVING FUN.

IT’S GOING TO GET BETTER.

Now go write!