Fight The Urge to Publish

Ryan Nehring by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Ever write an article you desperately needed to read? I’m doing it right now. My “publish” trigger-finger is always itchy, and in the interests of honest brokering I readily admit that I am absolutely guilty of the criminal accusation in my subtitle.

I do not edit nearly enough. You almost certainly don’t either, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

It’s an understandable shortcoming. We are writers and we craft painstakingly assembled sequences of verbiage intended to invoke connection, understanding, and communicate our premise; so what’s to edit?

Writing is an act of conceit, whether we acknowledge it or not. The romantic image of tortured writers pouring their heart out onto the page is compelling, but ultimately a contrived illusion. If all we were interested in or needed was to express ourselves, we’d shout passionate and eloquent phrasing into the wind, quite possibly on a windswept cliffside during a rainstorm; ya know, for dramatic effect.

But we don’t. We write it down in indelible ink, or even more indelible blog postings (nothing ever truly disappears on the internet). We do this because we want and even need readers to validate or at least connect to our profundity; a task made particularly difficult should we eschew a thorough and honest editing process.

We fight editing the way my 7-year-old fights bedtime; with any and all means available. We convince ourselves we nailed it on our first take, we bargain with ourselves that this particular post is only meant as a quick brain dump, we even lie to ourselves and say we’ll clean it up and re-post it later.

Writers already have a system in place for that last one, and we don’t publish drafts for a reason.

Why do we go to such lengths to avoid editing?

Editing Hurts

Editing a piece necessarily includes an implicit understanding that we are not in fact, perfect. We work hard on carefully conveying an idea, and coming to the realization that you might’ve fallen short of your goal is hard.

It is only when we realize that editing is an intrinsic part of the writing process are we able to avoid this feeling of failure. A paradigm shift is necessary wherein we stop seeing editing as something that happens after we’re done writing. At first blush that could be seen as an arbitrary distinction, but process, perhaps for writers more than any other group, matters. So how do we make this shift?

Sleep on It

I really can’t stress enough the importance of revisiting a piece with fresh eyes. Sentences that seemed brilliantly cogent and artfully crafted oftentimes reveal themselves to be overwrought or even pretentious in the cold light of the morning. Clarity in thought perhaps goes further than anything else when it comes to connecting to a reader.

Additionally, taking some time to sit with a piece can give you the perspective to truly see what’s missing, or what there is too much of already.

Write With the Edit in Mind

Write with reckless abandon and passion, but without delusions of grandeur. Understand that even as you pour ideas onto a page that you will need to come back and reframe or contextualize them to maximize their impact and efficacy. Let your first draft serve it’s intended purpose; to assemble your message. Expect nothing more of it, and allow the editing process to do its job in the process of turning that draft into the piece you envisioned.

Slash and Burn

Kill anything extraneous with extreme prejudice. Editing should be a violent act, done in the service of achieving excellence. To that end, a lot of stuff will likely have to go. That’s ok. Replace it with something better if the manuscript calls for it, or appreciate the room it leaves behind for the rest of your ideas if it doesn’t. Words aren’t decorations, they’re gears in the machine and no well-designed machine needs any extra gears.

The editing process scares a lot of us. So much so that “Editors” are an entire job unto themselves. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of having each of our pieces professionally edited. That fact in no way abdicates our responsibility to see our work given the best edit possible.

Be objective, be honest, be ruthless, and be caring of the process and the message. Edit more and then, edit some more. You, the work, and your readers will appreciate the effort and you will give your work the best possible chance to achieve its goal: connecting to its readers.

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