Kick Out the Editor

A few years ago, I read some advice by writing coach Julia Cameron ( when you are in creative mode, you need to kick out your internal Editor (please bear with my paraphrasing) The internal Editor is that voice that is constantly critiquing every word we put to the page; every note we sound out and the way we string notes together. The editor has a role to play, to be sure - but not until the creative process has run its course. Then she can nip, tuck, improve upon or scrap - but not until there's something to actually work with.

Allowing the editor to go unchecked not only hampers the creative process - in extreme cases, it keeps us in fear; fear that we will never be good enough; fear that we are not as good as the next creative person (comparison); fear that we sound stupid or that our ideas are trite. Unless you kick her out, the Editor will dominate, and the creative voice will be stunted - too afraid to fail and possibly even shutting down completely.

This certainly applies to solo songwriting, but applies to co-writing as well. Anyone who has some experience with co-writing has likely been in a room where ideas just can't seem to get going. Often this is because the writers' internal editors are working overtime, and they're too nervous to vocalize an idea that might not be "great". Even worse is when someone starts to dominate the session and put down ideas that are being tossed around with negative comments or too much analysis, causing others to shut down. I've watched well-meaning writers do this, and they often don't realize that they are squashing any opportunity for creative flow - in fact, I'm convinced they don't realize how they're being and how this is impacting the session. They mean well and want to write a good song so badly that they become an "editor" before there is even a song to edit. Sessions in these circumstances tend to go way longer than is needed, and be really frustrating for everyone.

In a co-writing situation, be aware if you are acting as an editor too early. If you dislike an idea, before saying no, consider "maybe" as an answer. I call this "catching the ball". Catch someone's idea before whacking it back. And it's going to help the process along if you have a better idea to offer. Strive to be the co-writer that creates a safe space for everyone to share ideas, and allow lots of room for "out there" suggestions. It could be that by doing this you'll catch some real gems for a unique, fresh, musical creation.

In solo songwriting, a good rule of thumb is to be willing to take self-assessment away in the beginning stages of the process. Julia Cameron writes that her prayer is: "God, I'll give you the quantity, You supply the quality". Don't judge what comes out, just write. Have joy in it. If you need to shake off some mental or emotional cobwebs, write something silly. Be purposefully trite…whatever. Tell your editor her turn will come later when there's something to shape and work with. A potter may go through many lumps of clay before coming up with a piece they'll paint, glaze and showcase.

The Editor in songwriting does have a very important role to play. However, a rogue editor can be a bully that intimidates the free thinking out of us and leads us into writers' block. Kick the Editor out until you have something to work with. And if you need inspiration, spend time playing with little kids. They generally don't have any editors lurking around and can create freely -  just because it's in them to do so.

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