Care and Feeding of the IE


IE equals “Internal Editor” in this instance, not Internet Explorer.  (Who knows what Internet Explorer needs in terms of care and feeding?)  Anyway, my IE has been enjoying herself lately, with my revision work on Perceval’s Secret and my reading the last half of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  The IE differs from the IC or Internal Critic.  The critic aspect of a writer’s mind likes to put down the work, finds fault everywhere in it and casts painful doubt on the writer’s abilities.  The editor aspect teaches, strives to make the writing better, accepts imperfection while striving for excellence, and possesses infinite patience and support, and keen problem-solving skills.  She encourages the creative or imaginative aspect of a writer’s mind, the playful side that is like an excited five year old bursting to tell mom what just happened as the first draft flows out onto paper.

IEs need care.  They need respect and purpose.  I have learned to love my IE over the years.  She thrives on work.  She lets me know when I’ve gotten a sentence or paragraph or chapter right with the tingling feeling that cascades through my body, accompanied by a sensation of bone-level certainty.  Keep your IE in good shape and she’ll serve you well.  The best exercise for her is editing work that is an essential part of revision.

Feed your IE with the information she needs to do her job well.  I keep reference books for English grammar, usage and editing as close to my desk as my dictionaries and thesaurus.  I even own a Dictionary of Difficult Words in business, technology, culture, medicine, science, acronyms and foreign words, and a thick Synonym Finder.  Add to these books online reference websites and your IE will have to go on a diet!

The IE is like a film editor who receives hours of film from the director and must cull it down to the story the director wants to tell.  The film editor brings the story into focus by looking at the beginnings and endings of scenes, storyboards (if they were done) to show the flow of the story, and in consultation with the director.  The film editor questions, challenges, and will experiment with the order of shots within a scene to help the director find what he wants.

The IE takes your manuscript and breaks it down into chapters, then into scenes, then into the conflict within each scene.  The main questions are:

  • Which character’s POV?
  • What is the conflict?
  • How does it move the story forward?
  • How does it reveal character?

Once the IE has those answers, she works on a line edit.  She looks for grammar and spelling issues, word choice appropriateness, sentence structure and any awkward constructions, paragraph structure, scene structure, chapter structure, and narrative structure.  Ah, then there’s what the characters say to each other.  How does it move the story forward or reveal character?  How does it sound?  Prose dialogue works hard when done right.  It will also sound normal and natural and flow.

For my current revision work, my IE identified problems during the assessment reading and I wrote them down.  I am now doing a line edit of each chapter, paying attention to any larger issues my IE identified.  The narrative structure is solid.  Character development is just fine.  So this revision is polishing the novel to a higher intensity than it was before.

My IE loves to hobnob with other IE’s, i.e. reading books by editors or by writers on the writing process.  A recent purchase for her is The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell.  Bell offers help, encouragement and lots of techniques and tips…for the care and feeding of the IE….

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4 responses to “Care and Feeding of the IE

  1. My IE is lazy and my IC is a jerk. Maybe I just need to get them both some ice cream…

    Great post, by the way!

    • Lazy IE? Bad IE! You need to change his diet. Ice cream just gives him a sugar high and makes him dizzy so he can’t concentrate. Try a grammar reference or Stephen King’s On Writing. ICs are almost always jerks and you cannot let him get away with it. Take him to a pro football game and let him out to play!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Sounds like the two of you have a great relationship. Most writers complain about the constant interruptions of their IE. How do you keep yours in check for the first draft?

    • My IE is welcome during my first draft work. I usually stop each day’s work in the middle of something, then begin the next day’s work by reviewing the writing from the day before. IE remains happy and docile. The one I have to watch is my IC. She works very hard to undermine my confidence and totally leave me discombobulated. So, I usually try to divert her attention with all sorts of distractions. What works best is to be actually working on someone else’s writing — a review, critique or similar. Sometimes, watching movies and critiquing them keeps my IC happy for days. All of this, however, took years to develop and refine. The first step always is to make friends with your IE and IC.

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