For the past week I’ve been editing a novel about vampires, and it has given me writer’s block. On three straight days I have sat down to write a post, each time failing to come up with more than a couple of lines. It seems seven days of reading about sex and death and blood and torture in the French Quarter has left me with nothing to say.
After considerable reflection, I have discovered the problem. It is not the denizens of the dark that have abducted my voice and rendered me speechless; it is my Editor. By no means a novel concept—but then, nothing I write is unique, my Editor reminds me—the Editor, like Freud’s super-ego, has long been recognized as the censor, the parental force residing within the creative mind telling the artist she isn’t—talented, visionary, imaginative, prolific—enough.
My Editor is the reason I tell people I’m not creative. “I write well,” I’ll say, or “I can paint and draw but only what I see—I can’t make things up.” That’s my Editor talking, quick to snuff any conception that I might have a unique perspective, or an original voice.
We all have Editors—at some point, usually around adolescence, they move into our heads and begin to unpack their bags of fear and doubt, eventually crowding out the ingenuous confidence that produced the gloriously unselfconscious paintings and stories we created in childhood. Many of us—most, I suspect, who think about it—regard the ascendency of the Editor as an inevitable if unfortunate fact of adulthood. Our eyes linger wistfully on the children’s paintings that line the walls of the hospital corridor; we marvel at their suppleness, the spontaneous riot of color and shape and we say, I wish I could paint like that—forgetting that, once, we did.
Some manage to keep the Editor mostly at bay. Those who make a living in the arts work hard to develop methods to override the inhibitions and fears the Editor imposes. And a very few have escaped the Editor altogether.
I think the vampire novelist is one of them. His writing is undisciplined and sensational, rife with dangling participles and misplaced modifiers. But it is fearless, brimming with confidence in his art, and bursting with passion for his story.
My job as his (small-e) editor is to rein in some of the excess, to impose some order. It’s a necessary part of the writing process and a responsibility I welcome, and his book will benefit from my efforts. But for my own writing, I can see that editing—especially of a work as fecund and exuberant as the vampire novel—has a suppressive effect, as if my willingly undertaking the role of censor and critic has unleashed whatever part of my Editor I’ve managed to contain.
What I’ve learned over the past few days is this: I want to write like the vampire writer. I want to spill words onto the screen from my gut, without regard to syntax or convention, even if the language is cliched or cloying. If it’s only practice, I want to write something completely unrestrained. But to do that, there’s no denying: I’m going to have to deal with my Editor.