Type, type, type. Backspace, backspace, backspace. Type more, delete, rewrite.
Writing and trying to edit as you go gets you nowhere. It’s two steps forward and one step back. It makes your writing process excruciatingly slow.
Stick around because it gets worse.
When you try to write and edit at the same time, you’re setting up two sides of your brain in a duel. Rather than getting these two sides to support one another, you’re putting them into a competition that neither wins.
As author Susan Reynolds says in Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer:
“Your editing brain is not the same as your writing brain, which is why you kindly ask the editor to step outside while your more imaginative and spontaneous brain is writing the first draft.”
Here’s the reality:
Writing uses one part of your brain. Editing uses another.
Once you understand this and accept it, you can work with it. And it all starts when you think about those two sides of your brain in terms of two characters I’d like to introduce you to:
Your Creative Angel and your Devilish Editor.
Meet your Creative Angel
Your Creative Angel is that part of your brain that encourages you. It tells you, “You’ve got this.” It supports you through the writing process.
Your Creative Angel helps you think of new angles for your writing. It pushes you gently toward finding the sparkliest word, the most precise phrase, and those intriguing arguments you use in your writing.
Your Creative Angel is creative, so its focus is on production. Your Creative Angel delivers the words onto the page.
Need help getting your Creative Angel to work for you? Read these:
Your Creative Angel helps you go from a blank page to a page full of words that are ready to be edited.
And in the next step, your Devilish Editor takes those words and ruthlessly deletes, changes, and polishes what remains until it’s an engaging package of information.
Read on to learn how the devil it happens.
Meet your Devilish Editor
The Devilish Editor has a vital role to play. Its job is every bit as important as the Creative Angel’s job.
The only problem is that the Devilish Editor really cannot be in the same room as the Creative Angel. More on that later.
In a perfect world, your Devilish Editor comes around after your Creative Angel has written its last word and has been whisked off to a safe location to rest, relax, and eat bonbons while waiting for your next creative project.
Your Devilish Editor doesn’t just edit, proof, and polish your words. It represents the skeptical voice that stands in for your readers.
Imagine it standing on your shoulder saying, “Prove it to me!” and “Oh, really? Says who?” and “Go ahead … make me click.”
Your Devilish Editor does his or her finest work when there’s not a whiff of your Creative Angel hovering around your writing.
This means letting your writing sit for a while unattended so all that creative fairy dust clears off it and there’s no “magic” left. Just words.
Those unadorned words are the raw materials your Devilish Editor works with.
Need help getting your Devilish Editor to work for you? Read these:
Give your Devilish Editor the support it needs by taking a break from writing before you refine your words. And then cut, rewrite, and proofread until it shines.
How to invite your Creative Angel and your Devilish Editor to your keyboard
First off, let’s answer an obvious question. Must you choose to be one of these and hire the other?
In other words, if you’re a writer, do you need to hire an editor? And if editing is your strength, does that mean you’re just not cut out to write?
Nothing of the sort.
Both of these sides of the writing process can coexist peacefully at your keyboard. But there are a few ground rules you’ll want to keep in mind so their relationship with each other — and with you — works well.
Think about the writing process as having an Act I and an Act II.
In Act I, invite your Creative Angel in to help. And remember what the Creative Angel whispers in your ear:
“Write forward, not backward.”
Don’t look back at the words you’ve written. Forget about the delete key. Just get the ideas in your head into written form. Leave the editing to later.
Cooperate with your Creative Angel and write.
In Act II, invite your Devilish Editor to sit at your keyboard. And remember what the Devilish Editor always says:
“Fresh eyes see all mitsakes.”
(That’s a joke!)
Give your Devilish Editor the optimal working environment by getting into critical, careful proofreading mode. Read carefully. This is not another writing day: it’s a day to polish and get your writing ready to be shared.
This article was inspired by you
This article was inspired by numerous conversations I’ve had with our readers that go something like this:
“I have started and stopped the same article for three days.”
“I wrote and rewrote this email to you before I would let myself send it.”
“I try to write but I never seem to get past the first paragraph.”
These are all statements made by writers who have a Creative Angel on one shoulder and a Devilish Editor on the other. Both are talking at once. It’s no wonder nothing gets written!
Step back and give each part of your brain the space to do its job. You’ll soon find out that the Creative Angel and the Devilish Editor are your best allies — just don’t invite them to your keyboard at the same time, OK?