Apr 10, 2012

Editing While Writing: It’s a Trap!

by Raina

in Writing Tips

Probably more comfortable than it looks.

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?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Dowling September 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I love that you ended up using this image on your blog post!

And I’m an admitted EWWer. ;)

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Georgina O. Ferrell June 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Some research at Carnegie-Mellon University suggests why. A group of researchers created a passage on a technical subject and inserted into it problems of organization, sentence structure, clarity, etc.. They asked two groups of readers to read the passage and indicate where they had trouble understanding. One group, however, was given background reading in the subject of the passage before they read it. Which group was better able to identify those deliberately inserted problems? The readers without the background reading, of course: when the ones with the better knowledge hit a passage with errors, they were able to bring up from memory what they already knew. They didn’t spot the errors in the writing because they were not relying on the writing to understand the ideas–they already understood. The ones without previous knowledge were much more effective at spotting flaws because they were much more attentive to the text. They had to be–without the background reading, the only way they could understand the material was to concentrate on the text.

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Katelyn Y. Ratliff June 28, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Try to build extra time into your writing schedule, so that you can let your work sit before editing. With a short piece like a blog post, a day away from it – or even a few hours – is enough. If you’ve written a whole novel, try to put it aside for at least a week or two before starting the editing process.

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