No more naked babies: quit making these writing mistakes

Quit editing as you write.

Few writers can do this and still produce enough words to publish something. I’m not one of those, and I bet you aren’t, either.

When you edit as you write, you do these terrible things to yourself:

  • You slow your rate of writing way down.
  • You cut off your creativity.
  • You disconnect yourself from the flow of your writing.
  • You prevent yourself from having fun.
  • You waste time fixing things that might not need it.

When you edit while you write, you don’t have a feel for the whole piece yet. You spend ten minutes choosing the perfect word for that one sentence; then, in the final edit, you end up cutting the entire paragraph.

Stop editing as you write. You’ll save time, and you’ll have more fun writing.

Tip: Come up with a mark that you can throw in your writing to remind yourself to edit this part. When you can’t find the word or reference or analogy, don’t stop in the middle of writing to find it. Put in the edit mark, and save it for editing time. (I use three slashes: ///. Easy to find using the search function; easy to spot when scanning my piece.)

Quit reviewing your work too soon.

If you read your finished work as soon as you’re through writing it, you’ll be in one of these unpleasant places:

  • The Pit of Despair: Too soon! Back away! Your ideal — the way you wanted it to sound and flow, the story as it existed in your mind — is too close. When you read how you’ve written it, the gap between the real and the ideal slays you. You’re too close to the pre-creation vision to see the value in the real, created written work.
  • The Cliffs of Insanity: Too close! Step down! You’re still on a writing high from that great idea, that perfect analogy, or the experience of writing in flow. You love all the words! So much! You’re too connected to the energy of the writing to see the (obvious) room for improvement.

Sometimes you need to wait a week. Sometimes a day. Sometimes an hour or two will do it.

I prefer to schedule separate times for writing and editing. (And I like to work in batches: so, one morning draft a bunch of posts. A couple of days later, edit them all.)

Tip: As a basic rule, the longer the piece, the more time you need between writing and editing. So if you want to write and publish a blog post in a day, you can. Give yourself an hour after writing, then edit, format, and hit publish.

Quit publishing without any editorial process.

The flip side of the edit-as-you-write writer is the impulsive writer. Is this you? You let the words pour out in a pent-up, ragey energy, and then — without any editing or proofing or even scanning — you push the thing out into the world.

Confession: I have been this writer many, many times.

Never for guest posts or freelance gigs or client work, but often for my own blog posts. You can scroll through my blog archives and find plenty of examples.

No, I haven’t gone back to fix them all. And I’m not planning to.

Yes, I edit everything before I publish it now, blog posts included. (Granted, it’s a quick-and-basic editing process, but it’s still an editing process.)

Sometimes you have something you need to say so badly that it pushes itself out of you in a rush. Sometimes you’ve gotten so comfortable with a particular topic or format that you can write without thinking.

That’s great, but editing and reviewing are important no matter how much flow you feel or how comfortable you are.

Give your best to the world; that doesn’t mean you sweat and struggle for perfection. It does mean you dress your baby in clothes before you show it to the world. Publishing without engaging in an editorial process is like taking your naked baby out for a walk. Somebody’s going to end up with shit on their hands.

(Hint: that somebody is most likely you.)

Use the tools at hand — here’s a good list — to make the editorial process better and smoother. Or create an editorial checklist to zip through the editing process without missing an important step.

Tip: Editing does not have to take hours. For short-form work, especially: set real standards, cover the important bases, and move on. It’s better to share something decent than to wait for something almost-perfect.

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

There’s another level

I have this idea that’s been floating around in my mind, that there are two levels to the world we live in:

  • Level 1: the most obvious level, the physical world with all its systems and structures, economic exchanges, and social rules.
  • Level 2: the higher (or deeper?) level, the place where we see each other for who we really are, we see what’s really going on, we operate from intuition/spiritual understanding, we create value and send it out and we receive value as we need it from others, who are also doing the same…

Of course I’m not the first one to have such thoughts.

This is every hippie dream, utopian vision, every commune creator’s blueprint. Let’s make things better! they say. Let’s build a better world. This system is terrible. It’s hurting people. Let’s try a different system.

Communal, utopian, intuitive visions don’t seem to have a great track record when they meet cold, hard reality.

And the naysayers seem to get a kick out of their failure, which is just stupid and spiteful. Um, hello, are you aware of the problems in the world? Why wouldn’t you mourn if someone fails to improve things? Why wouldn’t you hope and pray that somebody, somewhere, has some sort of plan that can get us out of these messes we’ve made and into some sort of reality that doesn’t depend on war, fear, greed, and oppression to function?

Eh, most people are too committed to their own systems to root for another, even if it is, unquestionably, better for everyone.

Still, Level 2 seems like a fantasy. A beautiful one, but not a real one.

In Christian circles, we would say, That’s what heaven is, dear. You can’t expect heaven on earth. That’s not how it works.

Hmmm. I agree, kind of. I do agree that this picture, this idea, this Level 2, this visionary utopian fantasy is the kingdom of heaven, or kingdom of God.

And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:20-21

For a long time, I’ve thought of Level 2 as something that exists in a purely spiritual/mental way. Like an alternate reality, but not one that’s real in the physical, tangible, measurable way we think of things being real.

But I think it is real, just as tangible, measurably real as anything.

We keep getting something backwards.

I think we don’t have to build it. I think we don’t have to construct it. We don’t have to buy 150 acres and invite our 50 closest friends to start a commune (I mean, go for it, and invite me, but you don’t have to do that).

I think it already exists.

It’s not a different system; it’s a different way of seeing.

It’s not an escape or alternative to the reality we’re stuck with; it’s a different way of living in this reality.

If you remove fear from the world, right now, what would happen?

Violence, greed, denial, oppression, and control would cease. No one would need them anymore. No one would feel the urge to hurt, or to hoard, to defend or preserve, to oppress or control, if there were no fear.

And what is fear but a way of seeing?

When Joe and I watch those extreme snowboarding videos, he smiles and feels excitement. I feel my heart rate rising and start getting panicky. He sees fun, adventure; he feels interest and joy and adrenaline. I see danger, so I feel fear.

We’re watching the same thing.

How we see things determines how we experience them. How we experience them determines how we feel about them. How we feel about them determines how we respond to them.

The habitual ways of seeing, experiencing, feeling, and responding add up to a way of living.

The kingdom of heaven is within us.

We just need to see it.

Instinct vs intellect

That God is, perhaps, is the only belief I hold with any complete certainty.

And even in that, at least 40% of me knows full well that all this ‘evidence’ could be my own willful misinterpretation.


Perhaps it is.

But whatever it is in me that calls out for Something outside of me is as insistent as the need to eat, the urge to write. Maybe it would be different if I had been raised differently, given a different set of values and loyalties.

I can’t know that.

I do know that beauty – even stark, powerful, terrifying beauty – has always told me a story about things unknown. And I have listened, have been listening, my entire life.

The language is foreign to my humanity, my physicality, but it is the music of home to some other, deeper, better, buried part of who I really am.

I don’t know the story. I’m still listening. Trying to hear. Learning to be still and let the music drop through me and hit bottom, get to that place where I can understand the meaning, one half-note at a time.

My instincts know what to do.

My intellect, however, has different goals: wants to understand, analyze, categorize, extract data, gain knowledge, form a system.

My intellect would study the molecular structure of water. My instinct would stand outside and feel the rain.