More ways to silence your inner editor (while you’re writing)

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Does your self-critical voice work to shut down your writing? If so, here are five useful tips on how to silence your inner editor while you’re trying to write…

Begin by understanding that we all talk to ourselves. And most of what we say is pretty negative.

We question our abilities, our motivations and our attitudes.

Here, for example, is some of what I said to myself just this morning:

Why did I allow myself to get distracted by email? I’m not very disciplined.

Argh, I cut myself on a piece of broken glass. That was pretty stupid.

Why did I criticize my husband (for breaking the glass)? It was just an accident! That was really unfair of me.

I’d planned to work on my financial books this morning — but I didn’t! Why am I such a useless procrastinator?

People with anxiety or depression usually talk a little more negatively to themselves than others. But it’s a habit that crosses all cultural, socio-economic and gender bounds. And I think the habit is particularly engrained in writers because we think we’re helping ourselves when we’re critical.

After all, we know that good writing requires good editing, and that becomes our excuse for beating ourselves up.

Late last year, I posted a column on how to silence your inner editor. But I’ve recently become familiar with the work of psychology professor Steven C. Hayes and his book A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters

Hayes offers five really interesting suggestions for how to silence that negative voice inside all our heads. Here’s a summary:

1-Disobey on purpose

Hayes suggests you write the following sentence on a slip of paper: “I cannot walk around this room.” Then, he wants you to read the sentence aloud — at least five or six times — as you slowly and purposefully walk around the room. He describes the action as “a tiny poke in the eye of the Dictator Within.”

Says Hayes: “Even the smallest demonstration that the mind’s power over you is an illusion can give you significantly more freedom to do hard things.” As writers, we can even build this into our lives as a regular practice by thinking, “I cannot type this sentence!” as we’re typing.

2-Give your mind its own name

When we listen to another person, we can choose whether we agree or disagree with what they’re saying. But when we’re talking to ourselves, we somehow don’t feel as though we have any choice but to agree.

Hayes says that research has shown that giving our mind its own name — different from the name on our birth certificate — really helps. Why? Because if our mind has its own name, it becomes a different “person.”

I’ve called my mind Harriet — after the strong-willed and contrarian hero of the children’s book Harriet the Spy. Introduce yourself to your mind, call it by its own (new) name and think of it as a separate person.

3-Appreciate what your mind is trying to do

As you listen to your thoughts, Hayes says, answer back with something like, “Thanks for that thought, Harriet. Really — thank you.”

Says Hayes: “If you speak to your mind dismissively, it will continue right on problem-solving, so be sincere. You might add, ‘I really get that you’re trying to be of use, so thank you for that. But I’ve got this covered.’ Say these words out loud if you’re alone, or internally if you’re with others.”

Your mind will probably push back with thoughts like, “That’s silly — that won’t help!” Respond again with, “Thanks for that thought, Harriet. Thank you — I really see how you are trying to be of use.” You might invite it to comment further by replying, “Got anything else you have to say?”

4-Sing it

Hayes’s fourth suggestion might sound really crazy, but whenever you’re having a challenging negative thought, turn it into a tune that you can sing. Any tune will do. Happy Birthday, a Christmas carol, the Hokey Pokey, the national anthem. Don’t worry about the wording or the rhyme — and most especially, don’t worry about the quality of your singing voice.

Now find a thought that’s been nagging you and try singing about it. My back pain was driving me crazy earlier this week, so I started singing “My back really hurts,” (to the tune of Happy Birthday) and it helped! I couldn’t quite believe it. Just singing those silly words reduced my back pain and made it easier to bear.

5-Carry it with you

Write a recurring critical thought on a piece of paper. Maybe it’s “I’m a terrible writer,” or “I’m going to fail.” Says Hayes: “After you finish writing, hold up the paper and look at it as if it were a precious and fragile page from an ancient manuscript. These words are an echo of your history.”

Even if the thought is painful, Hayes continues, “ask yourself if you’d be willing to honor that history by choosing to carry this piece of paper with you.” If you can get to “yes,” place it in your pocket, wallet or bag and let it come along for the ride. During the days you carry it, every so often pat your wallet or bag (or wherever you keep it) to acknowledge that it is part of your journey — even though it doesn’t define who you are — and it is welcome to come along.

I’ll give the last word to Steven Hayes:

“By practicing exercises like these,” he says, “we can start laying down unhelpful thoughts that have driven us for years. If we learn to think of our internal voice as that of an advisor rather than a dictator, it can become enormously helpful to us.

“We come to see that our mind itself is not bad or harmful, as long as we don’t let it rigidly dictate our behavior. It’s a tool and when we learn to put it on a leash, it can serve us even better.”

Also remember: your critical inner voice — that opinionated self-editor — will be useful to you when you’re editing. They just aren’t any help when you’re writing.


My video podcast last week addressed how to stop interruptions to your writing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


How do you silence your inner editor? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by Jan 31/24 I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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