A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
The Alien in Your Head
It was one of the scariest creatures in the history of science fiction movies (winning the Academy Award for best visual effects). Released in 1979, this classic film has been consistently rated as one of the best movies of all time. (The Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, [and] aesthetically significant.”) As some readers may recall, it is the story of a commercial space crew who make a detour to investigate a distress call from a distant moon. After a mysterious life form attaches itself to one of the team members, the entire crew is hunted by a malicious and malevolent creature with an unexpected life cycle.
Lurking in the back recesses of your brain is another alien—an evil, demented, and warped being who is secretly undoing all the things you are trying to accomplish as a writer. It’s an insidious extraterrestrial who wants to crush your spirit and squash your creativity. This monster wants to challenge you on every front. Whenever you design a scene or craft a character, the beast steps in to tell you what’s wrong with it. Whenever you establish a seemingly plausible plot line, the creature wants to tear it apart. Whatever you write, the critter whispers, “Hey, hot shot, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, do you?”
This creature is your Editorial Alien!
Your Alien is a surreptitious remnant of your academic career. It is a metastasizing residue of all those writing assignments you penned in school—many of which were returned with a plethora of crimson condemnations that singled out disjointed sentences, dangling modifiers, incomprehensible plots, split infinitives, and all manner of grammatical and mechanical errors that would forever doom you to a life devoid of literary (common) sense. It is a voice—a most negative voice—that jumps in every chance it gets to tell you what’s wrong, what you shouldn’t write, and that you would be better off embroidering place mats for the local senior citizen’s center than you would in trying to write a children’s book. The voice restricts you, hinders you, imprisons you, and stops you in your literary tracks. The Alien keeps telling you, loud and clear, “Your best writing will be nothing more than a weekly grocery list or a tweet about your acrobatic golden retriever.”
When we decide to write a children’s book, this phantasmagoric critter awakens. Fueled by the negative comments penned on scores of writing assignments during our school years, it begins its cranial infestation—invading our creativity, attacking our innovation, paralyzing our intent, and destroying our inspiration. The Alien is on a mission to maniacally dissolve both our will and intent.
In fact, there’s a pervasive battle going on inside your head between the Alien and the Creator (a very nice soul). The Creator wants to generate an abundance of ideas while the Alien wants to censor everything you put down. Your Creator is active, involved, and dynamic; the Alien, on the other hand, wants to jump in every chance it gets to tell you what’s wrong and why you shouldn’t write. “Hey you,” the Alien implores, “you are absolutely crazy for thinking you’ll ever be an accomplished children’s author. I’m totally aghast about what you’re writing and, what’s more, you still don’t know the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom!’”
The problem with the Alien is that if you listen to it, it will slow down or even stop your writing. It will take over your brain cells and slowly turn them into a pile of rancid gruel. You need to crush your Alien when you write. Get the ideas down on paper (or your computer monitor) without regard for their quality, impact, or intent. Just write—good stuff, bad stuff, garbage! Know that the real act of writing is not in the recording of words, but rather in their revision. The voice you hear in your head doesn’t know that. It’s trying to stop you before you create anything worthwhile . . . it’s judging you while you’re writing.
Send it back to the far reaches of outer space!
Words to Write By
“To write is human, to edit is divine.” —Stephen King
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” —C.J. Cherryh
“Hard writing makes easy reading.” —Wallace Stegner
“You fail only if you stop writing.” —Ray Bradbury
“Never censor yourself.” —Lucinda Williams
“Good writing is re-writing.” (my personal mantra)
Tony is the author of more than 50 children’s books. In addition, he has written the celebrated Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3ey0CsG). [“. . . a must have for all authors writing fiction and non-fiction books. This is one of the best books I’ve seen on the market for how to get started from the beginning to end.” —Amazon 5-star review]