Turning Off the Editor: Letting Creativity Strike instead of the Em Dash


This past week, something unsettling happened. Well, to be real with you, a lot of unsettling things have happened recently: We uprooted and moved (back) to a hustling city we love, for starters. This place was our home, and we left it for a short time and have happily returned after three years.

This move left me a little shell-shocked (excuse the drama), stressed, and sick. I wasn’t prepared to dive into our “new” life, which happened to run head-first into our “old” life. Ah, but that’s another story for another time. . . .

No, this particularly unsettling incident happened in the middle of church. My friend, rather ruthlessly, confiscated my pen in the middle of the service because, well, my hand seemed to be doing something simultaneously impressive and horrifying: editing. Editing the bulletin. Was my brain on? I don’t know.

I literally began to edit the church bulletin without fully realizing—like a nervous tic. And then, even when I knew what I was doing, I continued copyediting.

“Who are you?” My friend asks, playfully. But his question awakens something in me. It was as if my hand—or rather, my editor-brain—had taken on a life of its own. I couldn’t seem to turn it off, even though I was truly enjoying the sermon and worship. And now, I can’t decide if this is a harmless, albeit undesirable, habit in my life—like chewing my finger nails—or if there are repercussions much worse than I now realize. What if I peel away the layers and discover I have the dark supervillain-esque potential to become that embittered editor every grammar nerd fears? Does every editor have to face this reality like an existential crisis? Does every editor carry the burden of holding back the compulsion to change every hyphen to an em dash? Are you there CMOS? It’s me, Mollie.

What’s strange is that this horrifying moment kind of snuck up (sneaked? OMG WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?) on me. I have always been proud of how chill I am as an editor. I don’t think what’s grammatically correct should ever get in the way of the authenticity of voice and story. I think there’s a real danger in being overly critical (which is why I think "Bullet In the Brain" by Tobias Wolff is the best short story of all time). So, what’s going on? Is this merely a muscle memory reaction or somewhat of a snag in my heart preventing me from truly enjoying beauty?

After the service, the pen-stealer asks more about my compulsive behavior. “I bet you can’t read poetry and enjoy it like you used to,” he says. I rattle my brain trying to remember the last time I read poetry, let alone enjoyed it. “No,” I say, “I guess I can’t.”

And that’s when it all hits me: the lack of creativity. The drive to write my own stories, blog, scribble in a journal . . . it lies dormant in my heart, and I can’t remember the last time I created something for myself that I truly loved. This is what’s really unsettling. I love helping other writers create something bigger than themselves, making it the best version it can be. But at the end of the day, I don’t crave the same fate for myself.

So, here’s my dilemma, fellow editors. How do I turn off the editor-brain when it’s time to let inspiration strike in my own work? Do you struggle with this, too? If you don’t, is it because you actively do something to keep the editing-terrors away? GIVE ME ALL THE SECRETS . . . because, honestly, I don’t trust my hand around signs, pamphlets, or bulletins any more.