Don’t edit as you write
July 26, 2017
When I was getting my undergrad degree, I minored in editing. Sitting in grammar classes or editing classes with all these other people, their consensus seemed to be: I can’t help but edit, and all those errors are SO ANNOYING.
They’d complain about how nobody spoke correctly (even though our professors tended to emphasise descriptive grammar, not prescriptive) and how there were errors everywhere, blah, blah, blah.
I decided I would not trap myself like that. I would not chain myself to correcting grammar everywhere I went. I would not criticize, even internally, others’ conversations.
So I trained myself not to. I saw the grammatical errors, I heard them, but I didn’t judge them.
It took practice. At first, every error bothered me. Then, after a while, conversation errors didn’t bother me so much. I understood what they were saying, so who cared if they had the wrong verb tense?
It was so much better than being bothered, being hurt, almost, by the errors like my fellow students were.
I even got to a point where I stopped hearing and seeing the errors. And this did NOT affect my ability to edit.
Let me repeat that: it did NOT stop me from editing well.
After graduating, I got a job editing at a publishing company. I could edit all day, then go home and not hear the grammatical errors in conversations, not see the flagrant errors splashed across billboards. And I was a really good editor.
My motto was: “I don’t edit unless I’m getting paid to.”
Separating editing from myself like that was liberating.
Write without editing yourself
If you edit yourself as you write, you’re going to handicap yourself. Just as my fellow editing students were always frustrated, always annoyed at grammar errors, you’ll be frustrated and annoyed at your writing.
Or else you’ll write at a snail’s pace, going too slow to make any progress, because each sentence, each word has to be absolutely perfect before you move on.
The thing is, in writing, you’ll probably throw out a huge number of those sentences, if not the majority of them. So why bother making them perfect (and stopping yourself from writing more) if you’re likely to throw them away? Wouldn’t it be a better use of your time to just write, and then, once you’ve nailed down the parts that will stay, edit those later?
Don’t edit as you’re writing
It’s not going to stop you from being a good writer. It will allow you to be a better writer, because you’ll be writing, not editing. You can edit later. That’s the beauty of writing. Speeches, you can’t undo what you say, you can’t backspace or delete. But writing? Heck, yeah. You can write a terribly ungrammatical sentence and no one will ever know because you edit it later.
But if you’re so bent on editing now, it will be so much harder to write every single perfect sentence.
Plus, nobody’s grammar is perfect. Nobody’s. And, speaking from experience, everyone always misses stuff when they edit themselves. That’s what professional editors are for.
So, go forth, my fellow writers, and be writers, not editors. Put on your editorial cap later, but for now: write!