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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question looks at how to stop editing while you write. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
Have you ever struggled with trying to stop editing while you write? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
I have a question from Amy Rayburn, a writer based in Wilmington, Ohio. Here’s what she asked by email….
“I love your book and I totally know that I need to separate writing and editing. So why can’t I stop my 40-year-old habit of editing as I write? Help!
Thanks for your question, Amy. I’m going to be stating the obvious when I say this, but any habit you’ve had for 40 years is going to be hard to break! Give yourself some credit for trying and ample time to develop a new, more functional habit.
There are actually three main reasons you should stop editing while you write.
First, trying to do two jobs at once is not very efficient — it just makes everything take longer.
Second, it’s going to make writing uncomfortable for you. And who wants an unhappy writer?
Third, it’s going to make you a bad editor, because you won’t yet have enough distance or perspective from your work. If you edit later, you’ll edit better.
So, how do you break a 40-year old habit? I have one trick that works almost immediately for most people. Start writing in 3-point type. It will be too small for you to read and if you can’t read it, you won’t be able to edit it. While MS Word will not let you go below 5 pt by default, you can manually override that limit by typing a 3 in the box at the top of the screen.
Of course, you could also type in 1 or 2 pt but I like the look of slightly larger “mouse type.” It will help you reassure yourself that you’re still capturing words — even if you can’t manage to read them.
I also have one other tip that many people — especially academics — find useful. Develop the habit of writing yourself what I like to call “promissory notes.”
Whenever you discover something you need to look up — whether it’s a citation or even just the spelling of someone’s name — DON’T allow yourself to stop writing.
Yeah, I know. You’re convinced this research will take you only 15 seconds. [Really? Have you ever spent less than 20 minutes on a Google search?] Instead, write yourself a note in the document to remind you to check this fact later. When you write, write. Do everything else later. But write yourself a reminder to do it.
Amy, several years ago I wrote a blog post about how to break this pesky habit. It contains seven tips and I encourage you to read them to see if anything else might help you. Link below.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the late American writer Dominick Dunne. “Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.”
Amy, I want you to know it will be HARD work for you to stop editing while you write. But it will be so worthwhile. I was in my mid-40s when I did it and I more than doubled my own writing speed. I’ve worked with clients who have tripled theirs.
If you’d like to learn more about how to break the editing while you write habit, I address it in chapter 9 of my latest book Your Happy First Draft. The only place to buy it is on my website, link below.