Friday, March 7, 2014

Editing is important, last...

My brain works faster than my fingers.  Sometimes this is goodness.

It’s been forever since I’ve written something longer than a few lines by hand.  Despite four years of penmanship in Catholic grade school, my handwriting is generously described as abstract.  Someday I may scan each letter and make a font; give the NSA a run for its (our?) money.  Learning to type in high school and later gaining speed as a typesetter for the hometown newspaper has been a boon in a number of ways; gains in productivity and the readability of my work are but two of these blessings.  Even so, my brain still works faster than my fingers.
Who hasn’t been typing along with a full sail of beautiful brain-prose when they noticed the auto-correct green line of stupidity streaming behind them like the goo from a drunken snail’s meanderings?  Or better yet, consider the red line under a word misspelled so grossly that even the computer couldn’t fix it.  For many years I felt compelled to stop, drop, and edit.  This takes time, depending on the error.  And then… what happens then?

Remember, my brain-finger combo is the proverbial tortoise and the hare when it comes to writing.
After the grammar or spelling or punctuation madness has been improved to the computer’s satisfaction, and upon returning to the end of prosaic line, oft times the ideas are no longer there.  The blossoming flower has wilted under the ungenerous dry heat of ever-demanding syntax.  The brilliant phrase to come has vanished, as though it were nothing more than a mirage in the first place.  And, by golly, right now would be a great time for some YouTube or email checking.  And the next thing I know is that it’s time to let the dogs out and start thinking about supper; i.e. writing done for the day.

This type of self-inflicted paralysis is symptomatic of a flaw in the writer’s process.  Remember the writing process?  Think about macaroni and cheese.  Placing the cheese in the boiling water ruins the recipe.  First things need to be first.  Recipes are processes and processes help produce consistent results.  I’m a big fan of the writing process.  I have one and so should you.
Part of the writing process is to consider creation, revision, and editing as three separate entities.  Write, rest, revise (loop rest-revision ad infinitum if you wish), and then and only then go back for the edits.  The ugly parts will remain.  It’s not like they’re going to fix themselves.  Let the red and green lines of the word processing program adorn your prose, for a while.  The world needs more color.  In the meantime, the ideas need to blossom.

What I tell my students when it comes to the concentration-breaking issue of stopping mid-sentence to go back and fix that comma splice is that English Teacher Stuff (spelling, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, so on and gag me with a wood spoon) is important.  But it’s important last.
Remember, before editing can occur, there has to be something to edit.
Keep typing.  Type until the white edges of your distal phalanxes scratch the letters from the keyboard and the spaces between are gummy with red finger juice.  Finish that paragraph or that page or that chapter or, heck, even the entire first draft of that thousand-page novel.  Typos endure.  There will be time to go back and pick them off at your leisure.  Stalk them at the end of the writing process like the highly qualified word-sniper you are.


  1. Your article makes a good point. But the headline...? I think it needs editing.

  2. Sure... I wish I could say I was being clever and making an object lesson with the title. Truth is, I make typos in my sleep. Thanks for reading though.