Why You Should Prioritise Editing Over Writing

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When I started writing, I followed a simple strategy:

  1. Write up a draft
  2. Do a quick check
  3. Publish as soon as possible

Publishing immediately would give me a dopamine hit, and although the strategy worked for a while, it came at the expense of quality. That’s because I hadn’t realized there were any issues. At least not until the rejections poured in from editors of publications. And they all pointed to one issue. The work was unreadable.

I would re-read my work and be surprsed. Paragraphs had typos that would distort the meaning, and entire sections of the text would have little relevance to the subheading it was under. It was a mess, and I struggled to understand how I had made those mistakes.

That’s when I discovered that writing and editing were two entirely different skills. We try to do both at the same time, but just like trying to rub your stomach while at the same time, patting your head, it’s no easy task. So I took on a new strategy.

I split editing into a separate task that I would only attempt once I had finished writing my draft. I would consciously go through the draft as if I were a reader, and though it took longer, that single task would increase the quality of my work tenfold.

The formula to successful writing was taking the time to properly edit.

Why I don’t publish every day

I don’t write every day. It’s not just because I have a full-time job, but more to do with my energy levels. I would rather be focused on one day when I can create high-quality work as opposed to forcing myself to work over two unproductive days.

While some would argue that writing every day is beneficial, that notion is false because even the most successful writers have varied their writing to suit their schedules. Instead, it’s far better to write when you’re feeling motivated and creative. Don’t feel obligated to have to write every day to be successful. However, the real reason why I don’t hit publish every day is that editing takes time. A lot of time.

The longer your piece is, the longer you’ll need to spend time refining it. You might be thinking to yourself that Grammarly will do the trick, but I’m telling you from experience, it won’t. You need to spend time thoroughly reading your work. Do it once, and I guarantee there’ll be at least one mistake you hadn’t noticed before.

‘Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.’
― Patricia Fuller

I wrote a 2,000+ word article that had taken me almost all day to research and write up, and by the end, I felt incredibly fatigued. If I had simply hit publish, then that entire day of writing would’ve been wasted. It was riddled with errors.

So instead, I took a break and came back to it the next day. With my brain rested, I began the process of editing, and after two hours, I was done. And those two extra hours certainly paid off, as the quality of my story had improved dramatically.

But why was editing so much easier when it was turned into a separate task from writing? It all comes down to how the brain works.

The psychology behind editing

At work, one of our marketing leads ran a workshop where she spoke about the two modes of writing.

  1. Expression, which uses your creative brain.
  2. Editing, which uses your critical brain.

She explained that our brains have two parts, with the left specializing in language and logic, and the right being responsible for creativity and intuition. However, these two parts are not perfectly symmetrical, and the vast majority of us have a preference for the left side of our brain.

When it comes to writing, we make use of the creative side of our brain, but in doing so, it suppresses the left side, the logical side. That’s why it’s easy to make mistakes.

Dr. Tom Stafford explains that the psychology behind typos is because the brain sees writing as a high-level task. To be as efficient as possible, your brain ignores the low-level task of making sure the words flow, or that the grammar is correct.

The brain thrives on performing one activity at a time, if it needs to use both then it just causes us to fatigue. This is why you should always separate editing from writing. Multi-tasking is hard for the brain, and though you may feel productive, you’ll inevitably take longer to finish your writing.

Not editing weakens your writing

My first article filled me with excitement. I published it immediately and sent it to all my contacts. But I didn’t edit it before hitting publish, I simply released it in its draft state. And I was soon about to find out how much of a mistake that was.

A friend came back to me with the following message, ‘You wrote about how women are more sensitive than men. Doesn’t that come across as stereotypical and patriarchal?’

I was embarrassed. How could she have misinterpreted what I had said? I went back to the article and was shocked to see that a small typo had completely changed the meaning of one of my sentences. I meant to say that women had more sensitive skin, not that they were sensitive!

But it wasn’t the only typo, and in the end, I had to rewrite entire sections of the article. Had I simply spent the time editing, I could have avoided that embarrassment.

‘The first draft is black and white. Editing gives the story color.’ — Emma Hill

That’s another reason why editing is so valuable. People are more likely to come back if you consistently produce high-quality content. And if your goal is to become a better writer, there’s no greater feeling than having a loyal fan base of readers.

You can’t master the art of writing without also mastering editing. Matthew Royse explains that getting readers to read your articles involves making your writing stand out.

‘Now that you increased the reward of reading, you need to lower the pain of reading it. You need to make sure you reduce the effort required. This means you need to cut through the clutter and make sure your ideas pop off the screen.’

If you want your ideas to pop off the screen, then you need to ‘cut through the clutter and that can only open if you take the time to edit. Focus on that, and you’ll be able to flourish as a successful writer.

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