The Edit Remix

Guest Post by Christina Kaake

Boundaries!

As therapists, here’s a concept you know and love, right?

Well for those of you who have stuff to write, and particularly if you have trouble with writing anxiety, boundaries are your BEST writing friend! Set yourself some keyboard-related boundaries because they give you an incredible edge in finishing what you start and, importantly, making sure you finish strong.

I’m sure some of you are excited about even the concept of a new boundary to set (amiright?) and some of you think this makes no sense at all, so let’s get down to hard rules. Maelisa recently asked a bunch of you who are currently working on writing projects and your writing weaknesses.

We’ve already covered getting your writing started and some common concerns, so this week we’re taking time to talk about the things that ails us most:

The absolute most common issue was over-editing yourselves.

Oh that age-old editing problem. You just can’t stop yourself from tweaking one more word, from checking your comma usage a fourth time, from re-reading it again even though you meant to finish it yesterday.

I'm guessing as therapists most of you fall into one of two categories: either you are writing for your own website/audience and publishing your posts yourself, or you have a chance to send work to an editor (if you're writing for someone else's site, publishing a book, etc.). In either case, you’re worrying more than necessary.

The audience for your websites/blogs/notes (ahem) is less interested in your grammatical prowess than your content. Sure, you might get the odd reader annoyed with comma placement or mentally correcting who's to whose. But those people will have forgotten your editing faux pas within minutes. Seriously! What sticks with us (yes, I’m one of them) is errors in major publications like the New York Times, and even then we know an editor let it slip because they were overworked.

As a professional writer and reader, I have never stopped reading a blog or other interesting content because of editing issues. But your flawlessly-written piece with no punctuation errors and the perfectly-constructed sentences? Those tend to be so over-written as to lose focus, interest, and readability. Remind yourself that the point of your writing is to tell a story, and keep that front and center as you read and edit.

If you're really concerned, use a free online grammar checker. Truth bomb—Even those of us who get paid to write for other people do it sometimes. In fact, I know freelancers who use one for every piece, because the more you re-read something, the less likely you are to catch errors.

For those lucky writers sending their work to someone else for publishing, you HAVE an editor, and it’s their job to find and fix both stylistic and grammatical problems. Stop worrying—they get paid for this!

Since "stop worrying about it," is rarely actionable advice, your best bet is to start by setting yourself an *absolute* limit, and sticking to it. Allow yourself three drafts/edits of a piece of writing, and then STOP. No more. When you get to a 4th read-through, you are no longer editing for clarity or consistency. You are 100% missing any actual problems (science backs me up on this--your brain fills in the right letters and words when you know what SHOULD be there) and simply re-writing. In general I've found that when someone re-writes several times, they either add or remove so much that they lose their original point.

In the end, if you edit too much, you are not producing usable material (if for no other reason than you *aren't using* it). Set yourself a limit, and force yourself to stick to it. Hit the publish button and accept the tiny frisson of anxiety we writers still feel every single time. And if you're still worried, know that I once re-read a resumé I sent in for a writing job and was horrified by the mistakes I found in matching tenses. The editor who wanted to hire me? He didn't care.

Next week, we’ll get back to more of The Things You Carry, so if you have a specific concern you’d like addressed, leave it in the comments!