I never took the Myers-Briggs test. Or maybe I took a fake one, once. But whatever personality test I did take had me dead to rights as a Grade A perfectionist whose finger was nearly attached to the backspace button. Editing while writing (EWW) is an awful habit to get into and even harder to break.
For me, I tell myself that I will just learn to be a better writer, which would make editing completely unnecessary. Yeah, that’s just like assuming the right kind of breathing can make childbirth a piece of cake. The reason behind EWW–for many, me included–is that your mind is jumping around so much when writing that you reread what you’ve written to “center” yourself for the next thought. And in doing so, you realize that that first sentence wasn’t quite right. Or that you don’t really need the word “really.”
Here are just a couple issues you can expect when performing EWW:
- You forget things. You’re on a roll with a thought but then rewrite the first part of a sentence, but in doing so you’ve forgotten where you were going with it.
- You waste tons of time. Have you ever gotten a load of laundry out of the dryer only to drop a sock, bend down, pick it up, and in the process drop another sock? You’d save time by just leaving whatever you drop and going back to pick it up later. You should be editing AFTER you finish the draft, anyway.
How to Refrain from EWW
- Mentally tell yourself that you’re entering the writing phase. Writing is the only thing you should be doing at this stage.
- Draw a clear line in the editing “sand” and understand that editing includes fixing misspellings. It’s all or none here.
- Do not fall back on the “If I don’t fix it now, I may miss it later” mindset. Beyond editing, you still have a proofreading stage. Be confident that you’ll catch any additional mistakes.
- Remove the backspace key from your keyboard (or place something on top of the key, like double-sided tape). This may seem like complete lunacy, especially to perfectionists and completists who dislike anything being out of place, but this can help.
Even if you don’t think that you are much of an EWWer, you can reap the benefits of making these small changes. You’ll find that you finish writing more quickly. Plus, with distinct writing and editing stages, your editing session will be more productive because you’ll be able to see all of your thoughts at once. After all, it can be difficult to put together a puzzle if you’re still missing pieces. Take it from someone who once contacted a puzzle manufacturer to order a substitute piece for one that went AWOL. Isn’t that right, my fellow completists?