How to Write and Edit Without Going (Too) Insane

I do believe there is some truth to the adage that in order to be a writer, you have to be at least a little bit insane. Not for the histrionic reasons you might immediately be thinking: that writers are tortured souls, that the page is simultaneously their lover and confessor, blah, blah, blah. Yawn. I’m referring to the actual act of writing – it’s maddening!

There’s a little over a million words in the English language, and about a billion ways in which to use them. Since starting my own business, I’ve been writing a lot more- client projects, posts for this blog, article pitches, sample articles – and it can be agonizing figuring out the right way to say something. Unfortunately, I don’t have all day to read, and re-read a piece until it’s the pinnacle of absolute perfection, but I have employed some techniques that have helped me become a better and more efficient writer, while still leaving some of my sanity intact:

Write First, Edit Later

This is the area in which I struggle the most, as I have edited my pieces while writing them for as long as I can remember. I’ll write a few sentences, then re-read them to make sure everything flows smoothly. If it sounds a little off? I’ll play around with the words until I’m satisfied and then move on. You can imagine how long this takes. Fact is, writing and editing are two separate actions, and should be treated as such. 

How to break free? Go through and write your first draft, and try not to get hung up on punctuation, or whether the words sound just right (that’s why it’s called a first draft!). Get everything you want to say out on the paper, then go back and make your edits. This is a more efficient way of getting your work done, because it gets what you want to say on the page in a faster amount of time, and gives you time to edit and perfect your writing (as opposed to doing both at once, which can make the process long and tedious). If you’re a serial offender of the combined write-and-edit method like I am, this will be hard (I’ve re-read and tweaked the last couple sentences twice already!), but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a much more efficient – and less stressed – writer. 

Clear Your Head

Before editing, that is. When you’re knee-deep in a writing project, it can be hard to step back and objectively evaluate what areas need to be tightened up. Putting it aside for a bit before you start to edit can give you the fresh perspective you need in order to make those much-needed tweaks. I like to clear my head for an hour or two before I start editing a piece. Typically I’ll take the dog for a walk and cook a meal, or watch a couple episodes of Sex and the City before getting back to it (don’t judge me!). 

Read Out Loud

Is there a spot that doesn’t sound wrong, but it doesn’t sound quite right, either? Read it out loud! You may feel silly, but this can help quickly identify how well a sentence flows (or doesn’t). There have many times where something has sounded so right in my head, but when I read it out loud, I realized it was really clunky and long. Or I thought something sounded weird, but it flowed just fine when I read it out loud. If in doubt, read it out (I just made that up!). 

I’m far from a perfect writer, and I very much struggle with these tips (bad habits are hard to break). Yet I keep at it, because my sanity is worth preserving – and so is yours. 

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