Death by Editing

Writing and editing are a lot like conjoined twins: one can’t live without the other. But each has its own identity and purpose.

Some people don’t edit their work enough. Others edit themselves to pieces before they ever finish a decent draft. That’s what I call “death by editing.”

Writing includes four “buckets” of activities:

Note where editing comes in this list: AFTER you write. Don’t try to mix the two up or do them at the same time. It won’t be pretty.

Prewriting is all about preparation. Writing is getting your thoughts down on paper or into your computer. Editing is sculpting your thoughts. Proofreading is adding the finishing touches.

So how do you edit?

Here are three things NOT to do.

1: Don’t edit while you write. Some people would say that squelches the writing muse. I don’t know about that, but I do know that it can distract you. Keep the main thing the main thing when you write. Get it out of your head and onto your medium of choice! When you write, just WRITE. Don’t worry that a sentence sounds awkward or a paragraph may need to be moved. That’s what editing is for.

2: When you read your first draft, don’t edit anything on your first read. This keeps you from editing a sentence or paragraph out of context.

3: Don’t go from small to large; go from large to small. (Think: upside-down pyramid.) Don’t mess with word choice when you’re still deciding whether your paragraphs are in the right order. You can circle the word and write “fix” near it, but don’t deal with it until you get to that smaller “layer” of editing.

Here are four things TO DO.

1: Do make more than one pass at editing. It helps you focus on one chunk of that pyramid at a time. Move, meld or divide paragraphs before you scrutinize sentences. Nail down your sentence structure before you polish individual words.

2: Put down your editing and come back to it with fresh eyes after a walk, a coffee break, or a day—whatever time frame you can afford to take to distance yourself from your writing for a bit.

3: Play devil’s advocate. Ask yourself if you knew nothing about this topic, would you still understand it? If you objected to this position, would you still appreciate the logic presented? And so on. Look at your work from every angle.

4: Save each major draft with a new file name (e.g., xxxx_draft2) so you can make sure everyone is working with your latest draft.

Don’t kill your work with misguided editing. Editing isn’t a sledgehammer; it’s a clay shaper.

3 Responses to “Death by Editing”

  1. [...] you drown your message in details? (This is often the #2 problem I correct when I edit others’ writing. The message is there, but if the readers have to take too much time to tease it [...]

  2. fuco burn says:

    Really great post/article really informative.

  3. Thanks for a great post and interesting comments!

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