Writing and Editing: Wear Two Different Hats
by Barbara McNichol
Just as you’d wear a straw-brimmed hat in the sunshine and a rain cap in the pouring rain, remember the importance of wearing two different hats when you’re writing versus editing your nonfiction book.
One hat represents the creative process; the other deals with the critical process. Attempting to edit as you write can dampen your creativity, as I learned when working with an author recently. Because she was on a fast track to get her book printed, she had me editing the beginning chapters while she was still writing the middle and final chapters. She interrupted her writing flow to give me feedback on the chapters I’d sent back. It affected her ability to move forward smoothly with her final chapters, plus we had trouble keeping track of our progress. What frustration!
In retrospect, we needed to put on the brakes and say, “Each task—writing and editing— demands a separate and specific focus.” Here are three reasons why:
- When editing your own work, your mind can fill in, correct, or overlook errors. It’s easy to miss things that should be corrected—like missing words and inconsistencies.
- When you put a week or two between completing a draft and reviewing it, you break the link between what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote.
- Once a first draft is finished, if you rush in to evaluate it too quickly, you haven’t allowed your brain to “hang out in the shade and cool.” That’s when you mentally step back and “see” gaps in information, research, and logic. Taking a “big picture” look also enables you to see what fits and what doesn’t.
What can you do to separate writing from editing even more?
- When you reread your work, reformat it by changing the font, margins, line spacing, and other elements so it tricks the mind and looks like a new document.
- Keep wearing your creativity hat and go through each chapter asking these important questions:
- Is it complete from a content point of view? What’s missing?
- Have I included all the facts and stories I want to meet my objectives for this chapter?
- Can I take out any content that doesn’t fit?
Once you have answered these satisfactorily, you’re ready for the critical process to take over. While wearing your editing hat, leave behind your content questions and look for the elements of good writing—style, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and so on. And when you’re ready for feedback, call in an objective editor who can apply both the creative and critical process to perfecting your manuscript.