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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ Kathleen Y'Barbo: Strangle Your Editor

Kathleen learned that her love of story could carry her off to places far beyond her small Texas Gulf Coast town. With a degree in marketing from Texas A&M, Kathleen is now a best-selling award-winning author of more than thirty novels, novellas, and young adult books. In all, more than 850,000 copies of her books are currently in print in the US and abroad. In addition to her skills as a writer, Kathleen is exclusive publicist for Books & Such Literary Agency. A tenth-generation Texan, Kathleen has a daughter and three sons.


Dear Aspiring Authors, Prospective Playwrights, and Wannabe Writers:

The first and foremost rule of good writing is to strangle your editor. Before those of you who clutch rejection letters to your chest get too excited, hear me out. Editors are wonderful, knowledgeable, frustrating, frustrated, underpaid, overworked, and your best friend when a book is launched. These are the human editors – the living, breathing folks who populate the hallowed halls of publishing houses from coast to coast. Drop your rejection letters, folks, because that’s not the sort of editor I’m suggesting we strangle.

Inside each writer, just to the left of the creativity spot and wedged tight against the spot where logic meets magic, is another sort of editor. This editor is mean, nasty, critical, opinionated, and the worst enemy your manuscript ever had. Okay, some of you may have met a few human ones who display these characteristics as well. I
assure you, however, there is not a single editor alive – or no longer with us – who can do more harm to your writing than I. E., aka. your Internal Editor.

Each of us has an I.E. Each of us, unfortunately, listens to the nasty lass far more than we realize. Don’t think so? Well, what about the time you were typing away on a lovely story about a professional golfer who finds love at the local miniature golf course only to stop midway through the synopsis and toss the whole thing because the rule in romance is that professional sports figures are a “tough sell”. Did your sparkling plot begin to go dull when dear I.E. reminded you of that? Did you lose interest in what would have otherwise been a pretty good story and begin contemplating another with components straight from last months list of popular plots?

Doesn’t apply to you? Okay, what about this scenario? Brilliance of the greatest sort is flowing fro
m your fingers, through the computer keys, and onto the screen, each word more perfect than the next until . . . oh my, the squiggly red line appears on the screen. Those of us who use “that program” know what I mean. You’ve misspelled a word. Now what? Two choices. Go back and fix the spelling or continue on and try to ignore the red line. Which will you do? In the instant – or longer –it takes to make that decision, there is a strong likelihood the flow of dazzling words has been reduced to a boring and uninteresting drip.

Questions come to mind – awful questions whispered straight from the mouth of I.E. herself. What did you mean when you typed that last sentence? Where were you going with that thought? Why do you bother writing a manuscript that’s not going to be sold? Why not do like your mother –or other significant friend or relative - said and get a real job?

Ever had those thoughts? I have. Can you get past them? Sure. The only cure is to shake the lovely Miss I.E. off your shoulder and get right back to work. Sometimes, however, it’s how we work that gets us into trouble.

I’m referring to the research junkie. I.E’s love research
junkies. I would venture to guess that the research junkie is the best friend of the I.E. These are the writers who happily skip away from the computer – or navigate onto the Internet – mid-sentence to delve into the intricate differences in ladies’ undergarments in the seventeenth century rather than to complete the scene and research later. Have I caught some of you on this one? I confess I am guilty of this. Why wait to see what my latest research source says when I can come back to the scene once I have the information I need?

The next thing the research junky realizes, hours have passed and she’s discovered far more than she ever wanted to know about her topic. She may have discovered plots for three more books down one of the rabbit trails of research. But has she done anything to get that other manuscript - the one that sent her running for the research sites in the first place - in print? Probably not.

The reason for staying to finish the writing, as opposed to changing the character, correcting the typo, or doing the research is simple. Any
thing that interrupts the flow of your manuscript is in danger of calling out the Internal Editor. Once that scoundrel is out of her cage, you’re going to have a time getting her back in, especially if she really likes you and wants to stick around. Beware if you are one of her favorite people – a perfectionist.

I.E’s love perfectionists. Perfectionists wear letter sweaters from I.E.U. Perfectionists - and believe me you know who you are - beg and plead with I.E. to sit on their shoulders and whisper into their ears while they type. When I.E. says, “Don’t use that word,” the perfectionist runs to the thesaurus. When I.E wants to know if they really had Colt revolvers in 1875, the perfectionist runs to the encyclopedia. When I.E. says that medieval painters make lousy heroes, the perfectionist turns her maker of masterpieces into a master of the sword.

What’s wrong with listening to dear I. E., you might ask? Doesn’t she keep us from making mistakes, misspelling words, or possibly writing something that won’t sell? Yes, actually, she does all those things and more. She also stops the flow of creativity, keeps you from writing something original and fresh, and just plain makes you forget where you were going and what you intended to do in a scene.
She also steals your voice and forces you into cookie cutter writing that will have human editors rolling their eyes.

So what to do about I.E.? If only you could turn her off like you do the feature in “that program” that creates the squiggly red or green lines. Ignoring I.E. is tough but it can be done. First, literally turn off your computer’s editor. Get rid of those red or green lines. Perfectionists, this is where you promise yourself you’ll use that little check marked box to spell check just as soon as your writing day is done.

Second, if you need more information on a topic and are fighting the urge to race off and find it, stop and place a big, fat, bold X in the spot and go on typing. If X isn’t your letter, then pick another, but keep your fingers moving until you’re done for the day. When the work is done and it’s time to fill in with your brilliant research material, just use the “find’ function on your word processing program to locate each spot where material is missing. Finally, make a promise to yourself that you will get the entire story down before you unleash your editor. To put it less than nicely, do as a friend of mine once stated: “Barf it out now and clean it up later.” Write now – write it all – then edit. Cut half the manuscript if you must. Change the plot, the characters, or even the voice, but save these changes for the second draft.

So, for those of you who’ve been listening to the whispers of a muse called I. E., I offer this final caveat. Take a chance and wing it. Close your friend the Internal Editor back up in her soundproof cage and dare to write – just write.

If you’ll strangle your Internal Editor, you just might write a manuscript that will acquire a real editor – the human kind.

This Wild West adventure just might be the life she was meant to live.

The future is clearly mapped out for New York socialite Eugenia “Gennie” Cooper, but she secretly longs to slip into the boots of her favorite dime-novel heroine and experience just one adventure before settling down. When the opportunity arises, Gennie jumps at the chance to experience the Wild West, but her plans go awry when she is drawn into the lives of silver baron Daniel Beck and his daughter and finds herself caring for them more than is prudent–especially as she’s supposed to go back to New York and marry another man.

As Gennie adapts to the rough-and-tumble world of 1880s Colorado, she must decide whether her future lies with the enigmatic Daniel Beck or back home with the life planned for her since birth. The question is whether Daniel’s past–and disgruntled miners bent on revenge–will take that choice away from her.


  1. Who boy, you caught me here, Kathleen! My IE is alive and well. I have a horrible time turning her off. Thanks for the advice!

  2. Talk about a one line hook, huh? Strangle your editor. LOL.

    Thanks for this post. Very helpful and interesting!!!

  3. Thanks for the inspiration to keep going. As a writer trying to get my first novella published I can always use the encouragement to keep going :)

  4. Red and green are quite pretty colors really. I just let them decorate the page till I'm ready for spellcheck. But my IE paints in the same colors as distractions, and I'm not allowed to strangle them.

  5. Thank you, Kathleen! I needed to read this today. My IE has just about taken the fun out of writing. I'm going to promptly .....

    Argh! She showed up again to stop me from typing something creative! Help!!!


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