So you’ve written a novel. Oh, okay, let’s not use the word ‘novel’. Say anything: short story, essay, just any form of writing. You’ve written the first draft. You think it’s good. You think it’s great. You think it’s wonderful.
But it’s not ready to be distributed or shown to anyone else yet. Before that, there is what some writers call the ‘mammoth’ task of editing/rewriting. To make sure that everything is perfect. No contradictory information, no confusing sentences, no over-used words, no kid-like grammar, and the like. Similarly, checking for spelling mistakes (typos) or grammar mistakes (called by some as grammos — I personally don’t use that word!) is known as proof-reading.
Many writers hate the task of editing or proof-reading. Why?
Because they think it comes when the ‘creative stage’ of writing is finished. They hate to look for errors — they’re already convinced it’s done, come on! Proof-reading — argghhh (according to some writers). Necessary evil.
But when one looks below the surface, a lot of different answers are to be found. Editing is not as hard as it looks. Nor is it boring. It’s fun.
Yes, I’m not kidding. It’s fun to correct your work. Although it’s not as much fun to correct the same mistake over and over again. To fix broken sentences, to correct grammar — the fun of that depends on you. For me, they’re not too great, but they have to be done, nevertheless.
And what about proof reading? Well, even that’s not as hard as most people think. Yes, it is a bit boring—in fact, very boring at the start—but it’s immensely rewarding. When you go over the same thing twice and find that all previous mistakes were corrected by you, the author, the feeling which comes is great. Sense of achievement!
As a matter of fact, proof reading your own work is also helpful long-term. When the brain collects information about what kind of mistakes it’s doing, it will not do the same mistakes again. Grammatical errors such as the wrong use of the apostrophe, “its” vs. “it’s” or “accept” vs. “except” will be done plenty of times in the first draft. But as you keep editing, proof reading, writing, editing and proof reading all over again, you’ll find that the mistakes will gradually reduce. The brain will get more competitive.
Proof reading: proof reading generally means to check your work minutely for typos, grammatical errors, strange repetition of words, accidental contradictory information and the like. Although they’re highly annoying to correct the first time, it’s also rewarding to see after a period of time that you’re no longer making those mistakes just because you made them in the first place.
When we write, self-correction drives us bananas
Writing articles drives us crazy. Our natural tendency to self-edit gets out of hand. We can’t seem to put it on hold, even for a few minutes.
And the reason for that is our lack of competency.
Competency is a state of mind you reach when you’ve made enough mistakes that your brain can now move on.
That’s right. It’s not about getting things right in your brain — it’s about getting things wrong. The brain has to make hundreds, even thousands of mistakes — and overcome those mistakes — to be able to reach a level of competency.
Once it reaches competency, it self-edits on the fly
You can see this for yourself by spending time with a two-year-old.
Get the child to walk on grass, and then on gravel. He’ll struggle, and he may fall.
Get the child to say a sentence, and he’ll struggle to find the right words in the right order.
And yes, you may say that a child’s brain is not fully developed. But in fact, the brains of two-year-old children have more neural connections than at any other point in their lives. As they grow older, they lose many of those neural connections. Technically speaking at least, the child is in the best possible situation to learn — and learn quickly.
Yet they struggle
And that’s because the child hasn’t made enough mistakes yet. His brain is still working on finding and correcting them.
Once the brain makes enough mistakes — and corrects them — it now has a database of information that it can call upon at any time. Your brain has now reached its level of competency in that field, be it walking, talking or writing.
Your brain can now self-edit on the fly.
This is what great athletes do
And great writers.
And great singers.
And great speakers.
They’re still constantly self-editing, but they’ve reached such a high level of competency that they’ve moved into the realm of ‘fluency.’
Fluency is when self-editing happens so quickly that we can’t see it
It seems magical. And when things seem magical, we call it ‘talent.’
But what we call talent is just an advanced level of self-editing. Over and over and over again, until it’s second-nature.