Why you should separate writing and editing.

Content Marketers are great at delivering creative content at a rapid pace. Yet, our creativity is often limited by procrastination, imposter syndrome and, most importantly, our nagging perfectionism.  In our process of creating content, we are picky about word choices, spelling mistakes and sentence structures as we search for the perfect way to convey our message.

Our perfectionism can be counter-productive at times. When we write, we see ourselves switching back and forth between words and sentences, being unable to make progress because we want to correct everything before we continue writing.

And this hinders me when I’m writing long-form content. I’m able to write good social media copy in less than an hour. But when I’m writing a blog, it can take days or even weeks to finish it. I get lost in a maze of syntax and semantics.

Because of my perfectionism. Because I’m constantly noticing bad ideas and bad grammar while I am writing. It demotivates me to continue working on long-form content.  

I should separate writing and editing more often.

Edit ruthlessly….

Over the past time I have learned the importance of editing what I’ve written. Editing can turn your vague 1000-word blog into a concrete 700-word blog. Editing means changing just one word for another to make a sentence more powerful. Editing means changing the structure of sentences to make them click. Editing means discovering bad grammar, spelling and typos.

So yes, it is important to be nitpicky about what you’ve written when you’re editing it. “Edit ruthlessly.” Or “Edit like a third grade teacher.” I always remind myself of that when editing my first, second and third draft.

…But don’t start editing after you’re done writing

But sometimes we, or at least I, seem to overestimate the importance of editing in the writing process. I often feel the urge to edit a sentence before I’ve reached the end of the. Because I’ve detected a grammar or spelling mistake, or because what I wrote down did not match what I was intending to write.

And that’s demotivating. Because when I start feeling like my content is bad, I lose the inspiration to fix it.

And so it is important to separate writing and editing. When you create content, you should draw a clear line between when you are creating and editing content. Because when you’re doing both at the same time, you get stuck.

Writing is about jotting down all the ideas you have. Editing is about refining these ideas.

Your writing is bad. That’s good.

So make a clear distinction between when you create and when you edit. By separating these processes, you can fully focus on both processes separately without getting distracted.

When you edit, you should not write. When you write, you should not edit.

So what to do when you start working on, let’s say, a blog? That means you should write, write and write, and disregard all bad ideas and spelling mistakes you jot down in the process of writing. For now. Because we must continue writing. Otherwise we get stuck.

A couple of months ago I came across a great article written by by Julian Shapiro, who shares great tips on how to write well and effectively.

He mentions how singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran takes on the process of writing lyrics for his songs. We all know that most of his songs are a pure form of art. But that pure form of art is the result of a long-lasting process of writing down a lot of bad ideas first and finetuning them later.

I really like the metaphor Julian uses for this creative process. He compares our creativity to a pipeline that is for 90% filled with wastewater — your bad ideas. At the very back-end of the pipeline lies 10% of clear, pristine water: Your good ideas, difficult to reach. To reach this clear water, we must first remove wastewater from the pipeline.

With this, Julian means that you should write down every bad idea that arises. This means that you should not criticize your poorly-structured sentences or your ideas that don’t make sense. Instead, you should write them down, leave them for later, and just continue writing.

As you continue writing, you will see that your ideas slowly start to make sense. You will soon be able to make connections between your ideas, and you will see why some of your initial ideas were bad and how they should be refined. With this in mind, it’s now time to edit your content. Now you can edit ruthlessly!

While Julian’s pipeline metaphor mainly relates to how you could turn bad ideas into good ideas, I think his metaphor also applicable to how we communicate our ideas through writing. When clearing your pipeline, you must acknowledge that your sentences will not be perfect at first instance. And when you detect a sentence that sucks, you should leave that sentence untouched and continue writing until you’re done writing. When you start editing, then it is time to edit the sentence you disliked.

Have a look at this:

One of techniques that gets my writing and creativity going as well is Morning Pages, which is a great way to gather creative ideas in general. With Morning Pages, you should write down 3 pages of whatever comes to mind each morning. You should not think about any grammar, spelling or editing at all. The Morning Pages technique is originally meant as a kind of mindfulness: To clear your mind. But I find this technique also very handy to use when I want to get rid of all bad thoughts and ideas that arise when waking up, and to turn them into good ideas. My first few sentences start with random rambling and finish with useful ideas I could use for my content.

And likewise, when all clear ideas are finally on paper. It’s time to get rid of that wastewater and start editing.