Fear and Editing: My Magic Trick for Getting to the Page

Many writers talk about the need to silence our inner editors while writing. I also have critical inner voices I need to silence while editing: voices of doubt and fear telling me that even with my best efforts, the piece will still be awful. My self-doubt threatens my ability to just sit down and do the work. Making myself come to the page in the face of those inner voices can be challenging. I have some standard productivity tools that I use to get my butt in the chair, but I also have a magic trick.

The Magic Trick

I edit in purple pen.

I can edit with any pen, but when I am resisting, I turn to my trusted purple pen.

Purple is playful and creative in my mind. One of my favourite books as a child was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Harold draws himself into and out of adventures by using his purple crayon to create first a challenge and then a solution. Purple lines lead to interesting places in my imagination.

When I think of purple and creativity, I think of Jenny Joseph′s poem Warning. The opening line ″When I am an old woman I shall wear purple″ has always resonated with me. When I was 12 or 13, I realized I was in training to be an eccentric old woman. And, although I silenced many of my more creative impulses to fit in better at school, there was always a part of me that thought, in exactly the way Jenny Joseph described:

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Editing in purple taps into my sense of playfulness even in the face of hard work to be done. And, my sense of ″who cares what ′they′ think, this is what is right for me″ flourishes. Even when I kill my darling words, if I do it in purple, it feels creative not murderous.

I wouldn’t dare suggest that this would work for everyone, but I doubt I’m the only one who needs a nudge into the editor’s chair from time to time.  What tricks/tools do you use?



About Kate Arms-Roberts


Posted on February 2, 2011, in This Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I’m glad I found this post, Kate! The purple pen idea really appeals to me!

  2. Enjoyed this post and can totally relate to it as someone who has taken up blogging and is attempting to write their first book. For years I was silenced by my inner critic.
    When doubt surfaces I focus this way- I need to convey my own experiences and vulnerabilities to help others understand issues and enable them to feel OK to fully express their ‘aliveness’. Its all about giving other people permission to be themselves-mind/body and spirit, if indulgent on my part. I believe the more we share our three dimensional aspect then the more we actually connect with others at a deeper level.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      I’m going to print out your response to doubt and put it on my office wall. It’s just the sort of thing I need other people’s words to remind me of some days.

  3. I LOVE purple pens! I love purple anything really. When I was little, all my friends’ favorite colors were either pink or blue. I loved purple because it stood out and was a mixture of them…and the obsession just stuck.

    And you’re right—I love the playfulness of it, and the creativity is represents.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      My favorite purple pen comes in a three pack of pens: blue, pink and purple. I think the blue and pink must be jealous since I always throw them into communal supplies, but I keep the purple for myself.

  4. I found this post after you kindly followed me (@wrightstory) on Twitter.

    I love the idea of using a purple pen. I have three books finished & partially edited. Bad health & vision problems stopped me in my tracks for a long while. Now as I am improved and physically able to continue I find myself a little frozen by the fear of going back to editing. The purple pen appeals to my creative playful side. Maybe I could take it further & bring my metallic art pens to the writing desk.

    Thanks for making me smile & remember how perspective and the way we approach things can matter. Approaching things with a serious red pen was scary but somehow pretty pens seems less so.

    Pleased to ‘meet’ you!

    Kat 🙂

  5. Kate,

    A great post as always. I read so often how top writers maintain the most important thing they do is revision, more so than the original draft. We need to silence the doubting voices then too.

    I’ll never use purple ink, though. When I was a journalist my publisher would occasionally grab a reporter’s copy and mark it up with a purple pen. He loved getting back into editing, and was quite good at it, but seeing my work covered in purple slashes and scribbles, well, it was pretty traumatic. I learned a lot from his editing, but still shudder at the sight of purple ink.


  6. Kate Arms-Roberts


    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    The reminder that one person’s miracle is another person’s trauma is good to keep in mind, both for life and for character development in fiction.


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