Writing and Editing - Two Very Different Tasks

Blog Writing and Editing - Two Very Different Tasks
21st October, 2020

If you're a writer, chances are you're a great editor. You know how to effectively engage an audience, how to structure a piece, not to mention the rules of grammar you?ve had to familiarise yourself with again and again. You have cultivated skills in creativity and expression within your writing, with analysis and perspective for editing. You can do it all. There's only one hitch: you should never do it all for one piece. Here we explain why no piece should be written and edited by the same person.

The psychology behind it

High-level and low-level tasks

Your brain isn't wired to think consciously about everything at once. When you're on your way home, your brain might be occupied with what you?ll have for dinner, the walking happens on autopilot. When you're writing, you?ll be thinking about the meaning you're aiming to convey, not whether or not every word is spelled correctly. Dr Tom Stafford, an expert in typos at the University of Sheffield, explains the psychology behind this. Conveying meaning is ?a very high-level task?, and in order to do it well, your brain stops trying to do low-level tasks well. So don't feel bad if you?ve got loads of typos in your writing: it's a sign that your brain was efficiently focused on the high-level task of writing!

A difference in personality

The Myers-Briggs personality questionnaire suggests that people have a preference towards being Sensory or Intuitive. The idea of people being one or the other is now a little outdated, but certain tasks certainly require certain traits. When you write, you need to engage the Intuitive side of yourself: to be open to new possibilities; to draw links between ideas; to engage with metaphor and subtext. To edit, you need your Sensory side: to address what is right in front of you, and work through the problems one by one. Don't try to be both sides of yourself at once: let yourself commit to doing one task well.

Writing and editing in practice

Humility will save your piece

Unfortunately, even if you're a great editor of other people's work, you cannot be as rigorous with your own. You know the message you're trying to express, so you will expect to see it. That expectation will mean that you do see it, even if it's not there. This is confirmation bias, and it is the main reason a writer cannot edit their own work. An outside editor will read your work with objectivity, and the mistakes will leap off the page to them. Don't be embarrassed about asking for an editor. Your client will probably appreciate your humility: you understand that you are a human capable of human error. In his book ?Getting Things Done? David Allen tells us, ?You can do anything, but not everything.?

When there are no other options

If you're in a situation where you have no choice but to be your own editor, here are some tips for how to edit your own work effectively:

  • Don't edit as you go ? you?ll only confuse yourself. Commit to the writing, produce the whole draft, and then review.

  • Sleep on it before you read it back, so you are less emotionally tied to the state you were in when you were writing.

  • Change the font, the colour, the layout of the text. When you're not expecting the next word to look a particular way, you can tackle the confirmation bias.

  • Read the piece aloud: using your voice will make you a better fact-checker.

Going forward

Writing and editing are complex tasks that work very differently from each other, so don't worry if some days you find yourself being better at one than the other. You have both the left side and the right side of your brain, it's perfectly right that you're skilled in using both of them, but it's better to do one thing well than two things poorly. Remember, you don't need to feel alone as a writer. There are many brilliant writing and editing websites full of tips, and our greatcontent blog is always onhand with inside information. If you need a second pair of eyes on your piece, get in touch with us. Our team of experienced proofreaders and copyeditors will make sure that your pen is as mighty as your sword.

Text: The Fox
Image: Lorenzo Cafaroa on

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