When you’re creating content – whether that content is for an article for your website, a blog post, or part of an eBook or report- there’s a force that often slows us down. And in some cases it slows us down so much that our writing grinds to a halt and maybe we even give up. And chalk it up to Writer’s Block.
What is this force? It’s the curse of Self-Editing.
So How Does Self-Editing Slow Us Down?
As you create your content, your Self Editor rears its ugly head. It’s like a gremlin perched at your left shoulder that whispers things like: “You spelled that wrong, go back and correct it, don’t want your web visitors thinking you can’t spell.” Or it says: “Wow, that sentence you just typed sucked, you sure you wanna say that?’ Or: “You might want to think twice before you post THAT.”
And so self-editing slows us down. And we look on enviously at guys who aren’t weighed down by self-editing and can write perfectly formed articles in 35 minutes. Or 40 minutes. Or 50 minutes. And because we’re weighed down with self-editing it takes us 2 hours. Or 3 hours. Or more.
And for some people the curse of self-editing gets too heavy. And they start an article, write a few paragraphs or so, and then go back and correct a word here or a line there, and they lose the thrust of their thoughts. And their article goes to the Article Graveyard. A few more articles go that way too, and soon they stop writing.
And when that happens The Voice Of Resistance has won.
Huh? What’s This Voice Of Resistance?
If you’ve not yet read Steven Pressfield’s book “The War Of Art” I suggest you go to Amazon immediately and get it in your shopping basket and get it express delivered. It’s one of the best books on writing I’ve ever come across (and while I’m not an expert, I’ve read around 250-300 books on writing, plus magazines, plus interviews).
In the War Of Art Pressfield talks about a force you have to overcome everyday. And that force is The Voice Of Resistance. And Self Editing is one of the major tools that the Voice of Resistance uses in its efforts to defeat you.
Because what’s really happening is that the Ego doesn’t like change – and it will resist it. As human beings we like the status quo – the Ego doesn’t like us to do new things. Especially if those new things will open us up to pain – like feedback. Or rejection. Or frustration.
So it’s a defense mechanism.
But we still have to overcome it to truly progress.
So Can You Learn To Stop Self Editing?
My mentor, Sean D’Souza, says that when you’ve done enough writing of articles that you’ll learn to self edit less. From a psychological point of view that’s true – what happens is the Ego learns that actually writing articles is not so bad, and hey I made $50 today because of something I wrote, and so it eventually learns that destructive self-editing isn’t needed. Because writing can be a good thing.
But that can take time. You might have to endure a year, or two years, or more, of dealing with excessive self-editing until you can get to the point where the Ego finally decides that it’s not threatened by writing.
And that’s a problem because what you’re spending to get to that stage is time. And it’s the one commodity that once it’s spent we can never get back. And imagine for a moment if you could sidestep the self-editing NOW – or in 6 months time – and create your content in half the time.
What could you do with THAT time that you’d freed up? You could spend that time with your families. Or write more Content to help build your business. Or meet your friends. Or learn the bass guitar!
How Can I Learn To Stop Self-Editing?
There are 3 strategies I know of that you can use to train yourself to avoid self-editing. And I learned them all from fiction writing – where self-editing is the biggest enemy of would-be writers there is. So let’s look at them one by one.
Method 1) The No Monitor Method.
This is the simplest method. You go to your computer. You turn it on. You open Word, or your word processor programme of preference. When you’ve opened a document that you wish to write your article in you type the Headline, turn auto-save on, carriage return a couple of times.
And then turn the monitor off. And type your article.
With this method you can’t possibly self-edit because you can’t see what you’ve written. You can’t backspace and erase a word. You’ve just got to keep going and clear it up later.
Obviously you’ll need to have printed out your outline first on a piece of paper so you’ve got something to refer to. But that’s it. Turn off the monitor. And type.
And yes this method works. But it’s crude. So let’s look at the next method, which I’ve dubbed the Hemingway method.
Method 2) The Hemingway Method
Ernest Hemingway once said: “The first draft of everything is shit.” And what he went on to say was that he believed the first draft of any of his writing was poor, but that if had all of his shit on paper in front of him he could turn that crap into gold.
So his method relaxes your voice of resistance by telling it: “Don’t worry, this draft is crap, we’ll edit it up later.”
And this is how nearly every fiction writer writes. And probably a great deal of non- fiction writers too. They write a draft. Edit it. Check the corrected draft. Edit that. And so on until they’re ready to publish.
And this method works too. For writing articles though the problem is that it consumes as much time as before – because you’ve got to write the article, then you’ve got to print it out and edit it, and then make the necessary corrections.
For a long form piece of work (say 10,000 words plus) this works well. For the kind of articles we’re talking about it’s still time consuming.
So let’s look at Method 3. The Morning Pages Method.
Method 3) The Morning Pages Method
If you’ve read Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” you’ll be familiar with the term ‘morning pages.’ I know the book has sold well, and a lot of ‘creative people’ have read it and used the advice Cameron gives.
What few people know is that Cameron’s Morning Pages concept is based on an exercise from a book called “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brand, which was originally published in the mid 30s.
And the Brand version is what we want – because it is designed specifically to deal with the self-editing problem.
Here’s how it works. Brand tells you that you allocate the first 10 to 15 minutes of your day to this exercise. And you sit down at your desk, set a timer, and once you’ve set it to go you write as fast and furiously as you can. You don’t stop for anything. You don’t stop to correct a spelling. You don’t stop to edit a punctuation mark. In fact she doesn’t care if you use punctuation marks at all.
If you can’t think of anything to write she advises you write: I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING TO WRITE over and over, and eventually your brain will supply you with something to write.
That Sounds Kind Of Stupid
I thought so too.
But back in the day when I wanted to write fiction I did it for 6 months. And a strange thing happened. Often in those 10-15 minute sessions would be a lot of useless verbiage. But as I did the exercise more and more I found little gems floating amongst all the crap, little phrases or sentences that were really, really good. Sometimes complete paragraphs. Or a great idea for a story that suddenly popped up out of left field.
But it cured me of self-editing induced paralysis within two to three months. Brand’s book is still available – I just looked on Amazon – and it’s $5.95, so for the price of a couple of cups of coffee you should get hold of this and have a read through it and then make your own mind up.
1) Self-Editing eats up time. Time is the one commodity we can never get back.
2) Eventually your Ego will be less threatened and the self-editing will relax.
3) But you can train yourself to bypass the self-editing phase sooner and free up some time.
4) My personal recommendation is Method 3. Worked like a charm for me – but I’ve known writers who’ve sworn by Method 1 as well. Method 2 works too – but is just as time intensive so you should only consider it for longer works.
Self-Editing is a powerful force of resistance that can make creating content a difficult and arduous process. But if you recognize it for what it is – a symptom of resistance – you can pick a strategy to deal with it and overcome it.
I highly recommend that you work on lifting the curse of self-editing – your content output will increase substantially as a result of it.