Douglas Hulick is the author of AMONG THIEVES, the first book in the Tales of the Kin series, published by Roc/Penguin in 2011. His second book, SWORN IN STEEL, is due out in April, 2012. To date, Douglas’s books have been, or are in the process of being, translated into five different languages, and are also available in the UK and Australia. He currently lives in Minnesota, where it is usually more cold than warm. He has been known to pick up a sword now and then, and even use it on occasion.
I have to admit, it was tempting to step onto the first path I saw when I read the topic for the week on Night Bazaar was “Duos and Ensembles.” After all, even though my first book, Among Thieves, is written from a close first person point of view, there is a classic duo relationship going on between Drothe, the narrator, and his best friend, Bronze Degan. Visions of advice on structuring a duo in the first person, not to mention the challenges one can face, began to unfold before me, a vista of experience and advice and anecdotes stretching over 700 words….
Nope, we’re not going to talk about that today. Instead, we’re going to talk about the one duo that probably shapes my writing more than any other: the relationship between me and my Internal Editor.
Is it bad form to start off saying that, most days, I hate my Internal Editor? (hereafter called IE, because I don’t really need to pad the word count) Not just dislike, mind, or find irritating, or could do without, but actively HATE? Because, yeah, I do. Why? Simple: try as I might, I can’t shut him up.
Ever since I started writing, people have been talking about “shutting off their internal editor.” About how they can just sit down and let the words flow, not having to worry about self-criticism or structure or even spelling errors, because, you see, they are in The Zone (or Sweet Spot, or whatever the kids are calling it these days). About how they can spill words onto the page, knowing that all of the ugly prose will get fixed later, when their editor clocks back in.
And I have to admit, this sounds pretty fantastic. I mean, just sitting down and writing, with nothing between you and the story except your fingers? How liberating is that? Sign me up, take my dues, and give me the membership kit–I’m in!
Except, of course, it isn’t that simple. Despite all the suggestions and exercises and drills offered to facilitate this, some people simply cannot seem to turn off that internal voice. A voice that causes them to worry a scene, or a paragraph, or even a sentence like a dog with a new chew toy. And believe me, I’ve tried. But for whatever reason, I just can’t seem to persuade my IE that no, really, there’s nothing funny in this drink, and of course I wouldn’t use this roll of duct tape and ball gag I have behind my back to wrap you like a silver mummy and toss you into the corner of my brain usually reserved for forgetting to make dentist appointments. Perish the thought!
Maybe I’m just a lousy mental liar, but my IE never falls for that one.
No, my IE insists on sitting at my shoulder, finger ever-extended, prodding and poking and saying, “Oh, come ON, you can word it better than that! Play around with your sentence structure a bit, man. And would it kill you to try a little alliteration now and then?”
And my wife wonders at my low, slow daily word count.
But I have to admit: it isn’t all bad. Because my IE is always there pushing me, I tend to come up with some pretty clean copy the first time through. It’s not flawless, but neither is it illegible. Thanks to my IE, my “zero draft” tends to remain mostly in my head. Likewise, because IE won’t let me get away with throwing a name and a mannerism down for even a minor character and fleshing it out later, I get to spend time with a wide array of people on my page. Ditto the world–I can’t tell you the number of things I have learned about Ildrecca and the rest of Drothe’s world simply by my IE insisting that there needs to be a bit of fleshed out history in the book RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Yes, it slows me up, but it also gives me some time to savor the process as well.
And that’s the thing I have to stop and remind myself of every now and then: that my IE wants the story be as good as it can be, just like the writer part of me does. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be sitting there inside my head, wearing that old-fashioned green visor and sleeve protectors, pushing me to make my prose smoother and cleaner and tighter–not later, but now. Because, between you and me, I think deep down he’s impatient. I think he wants to read the finished book now, even though we both know we’re still a long way from it. He just doesn’t realize his way means it takes longer to reach The End, no matter how often I tell him. Not that he listens to me anyhow.
So no; no cordial relationship between me any my Internal Editor. I long ago resigned myself to the fact that, while some writers can persuade their IE step out of their brain for a bit, I’m locked in a perpetual cage match. I’m not going to say some days aren’t better than others, but I’m not going to lie and pretend that the occasional folding mental chair doesn’t get thrown around, either. But then again, what classic duos don’t have their disagreements now and then?