Ask any of my friends who have read things that I’ve written before I post them (or after) and they will tell you this: My writing is full of typos. No, it’s inundated with them! When you write up a first-draft of something, it’s more-or-less puking onto the keyboard. You have something that has been burning your gut for a bit, and it’s ready to come out. And usually the longer it’s in there, the more violently it exits, Often leaving a trail of overused commas, misplaced words, and horridly placed parenthetical statements in its wake. That’s fine; Even necessary. The job of editing is to go back and clean up all that mess into something palatable to a reader’s stomach. For the longest time (years) I have struggled with this.
Does the following scenario sound familiar?
You have a blog post ready to come out. You type it up. You are so exciting to release your fledgling into cyber-space that you almost forgot to look over the post for any errors that may have occurred during your mad type-fest.
You find a few.
These discoveries sober you up to your lack of divinity, and so you look over it a second time.
You find a couple more.
After peering at each word as hard as you can, you can’t find any other problems. Awesome! NOW you have perfection. You click “post’. The next morning, feeling a little egocentric perhaps, you decide to check your viewership stats: 15 views. hm… Most likely, it was just your friends and family. Feeling uninspired- and still a little egotistical, you start rereading your creation from the night before.
What you thought was a beautiful, prepared dinner for your beloved readers now looks like the bloody dismembered remains from the late-night ravagings of the walking dead: Dangling modifiers just… dangling there! Words that you typed twice in a row for no explicable reason. and even grammar errors… unintentional ones! Mortified, you try to clean it all up quickly and update your post, but it’s too late. You can’t make those 15 readers un-read your post, nor can you convince them to come back tomorrow. The damage is done.
That has been my story more often than I’d like to admit. But thankfully, I think I am finally onto both the root of the problem and the solution:
When we write, we know exactly what we are wanting to say. We know the text better than anyone. Counter to logic, that actually hurts us more than helps us when it comes to self-editing. When the text is freshly scribed, we subconsciously read over how we wanted to say the words, not how they actually came out. Our eyes can actually trick us by fixing all of the problems before we notice them. It fills in missing words, skips over doubled ones, and phrases the commas in the way we thought they would flow. I’ve tried several methods to combat this from reading the work backwards (it does help some) to reading it out loud, slowly, trying to focus in on each word. That actually helps the most, until I get about 15,000 words into the article.
But the best fix I’ve found is so easy! It just requires patience. I came across it while reading Stephen King’s “On Writing”, in which he mentions that often he will write the first draft of a book, then put it away and pull it out to read weeks later. When he did this, he said that it always helped him read it as a third party. Since he doesn’t remember it as vividly, certain errors become obvious, and parts of the book that he thought were brilliant, he doesn’t think of so highly on the second round. Now, I’m not writing epics, but this advice is gold for my essays! The trick is to get ahead of yourself, so to speak. Write a post today, but intend to post it tomorrow. It’s so obvious now. If I always notice the most mistakes the next day, why not wait until the next day to edit? My 28 years of seeking instant gratification hates this! But it’s something I have to do. I don’t do it all the time. And when I don’t do it, I regret it. Most recent early-morning-regret was this post from yesterday. Perhaps that’s why this article came almost immediately after it! At first, “choosing to wait” is really hard. But it gets easier every day, especially when you wake up wanting to write and remember that you already have! It’s already sitting there waiting for you to look it over, erase some things, rewrite some things, and post!