Write first. Then edit.

Write first. Then edit.

Is writing difficult for you? The most common pitfall is trying to do two things at once: writing and editing. They’re two separate tasks, and trying to do them simultaneously is a fool’s errand.

First, grab a pen (or open a blank document) and just jot down what you’re trying to say. As thoughts come up, just write them down. If you can’t quite grasp it, ask yourself, What am I trying to say? Then write down the answer as it comes to you.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be pretty, glib or eloquent. Fractured grammar, false starts and sentence fragments are OK for now — this is only a first draft. A brain dump. Just write down your ideas before you forget them.

There’s plenty of time later for you go back over it and tidy things up — or as we Professional Wordsmiths call it, edit.

Write first, then edit. Both jobs are hard enough. Don’t make it harder by trying to do them simultaneously — like rubbing your tummy and patting your head (or vice versa).

The other day the New York Times published a piece on some of the editing they do to every article that’s been accepted for their Op-Ed page:

  • Correct grammatical and typographical errors.
  • Make sure that the article conforms to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage… expletives will be deleted; some words will be capitalized, others lowercased.
  • See to it that the article fits our allotted space.
  • Fact-check the article. While it is the author’s responsibility to ensure that everything written for us is accurate, we still check facts – names, dates, places, quotations. Here’s the full article.

And all that happens after the freaking article has been accepted by the New York Times, of all places! Ya gotta figure — if they have to go back and edit, you do too.

So be gentle with yourself. First, just write. Everything doesn’t have to flow easily and perfectly from your pen (or keyboard). Oh, it’s nice when it happens, but don’t expect it. Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”

Later, like Hemingway — and every other writer — you can go back and edit your mess into something clearer and stronger and more polished.

Has this helped? Let me know. I welcome your comments.

  1. Frank MannoFrank Manno08-08-2005

    Tom,

    Excellent piece. This definitely opens up my eyes on the whole “writing/editing simultaneously” issue. I’ve always struggled in this realm, as I’m one of those who attempts to do both.

    I’ll definitely follow your advice in future writings.

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