Write. Then Edit.

You know when you’re typing, and there is a misspelled word with red squiggles, and the person hovering over your shoulder whispers,

“Go back. You spelled it wrong.”

Yeah? I’ll let you in on a little secret.


Don’t go back. Never go back to the words with squiggly lines until after you’ve written all the words. These voices that hang and hover over our heads as we write couldn’t be more wrong about the correct way to write.

Write. Then edit. There’s freedom and fullness of meaning in this practice.

Peter Elbow, a Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes,

Your editorial instinct is often much better developed than your producing instinct, so that as each phrase starts to roll off your pencil, you hear seventeen reasons why it is unsatisfactory. The paper remains blank. Or else there are a series of crossed out half-sentences and half-paragraphs.

Writing Without Teachers

And he’s right.

Deep within all of us, there is an intricate intermingling of instinct and insecurity—feelings of incompetence, even fears of inability or lack of intelligence. These layers reveal themselves through our impulse to edit as we write; desperate attempts to quickly make better the bad we think we’re creating.

Instead of letting these instincts and insecurities lead the way, how about leaning into and leveraging them for good and growth? How about looking at the presence of imperfection in our writing as opportunity for refinement rather than a verdict of value or ability or worth?

To write, freely and fully, and only then to see your unfinished work as an invitation to further fine-tune the message in your heart.

Then and only then, after you have finished writing, should you edit. Here are a few essential and easy ways to practice this.

  1. Space. Hold space between writing and going back to look over what you’ve written. After some time, your eyes will adjust to recognize the good and what sticks out as unnecessary or amiss.
  2. Read Aloud. Don’t whisper under your breath and don’t read to yourself in your head. Read aloud, and as you roll the  tongue, you’ll catch the wonky wording and grammatical errors. Sound has a surprising way of stripping what is not in favor or harmonious.
  3. Kill your darlings. Unwittingly attributed to Stephen King but originating from William Faulkner is this bit of truth that means by editing and eliminating some of the words and ideas you’ve created and come to love, you are able to let go of the bulk or “fluff” of it and, in turn, unearth better depth and clarity.

No more hiding from writing, or hesitating to push publish. No more editing as you go and losing track of the meaning you genuinely wanted portray. No more hiring an editor every time you write a blog post which, by the way, you’ve yet to put out there because, #perfection.

In writing, there is no such thing as perfect. There is only patience in the process of writing, and then returning to edit with the courage to put it out there; trusting it is as refined as it can be.

Imperfect, but wildly, bravely refined.

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18 COMMENTS

  • Lenia

    I love this and this can be applied symbolically to other things in life. So deep

    • Pangcha Vang

      Rachel,
      This is beautiful – I love how you intentionally craft every thought into word. I’m a beginner in writing – it’s often scary for me to share my thoughts with the world. Even as I’m getting ready to launch my small business – I find myself struggling with these things. Thank you for reminding us that editting comes later and there’s no such thing as perfect writing. You’re the best, Rachel. Love you friend!

      • Rachel Kang
        AUTHOR

        Oh Pangcha—I love your heart! Working my way through a draft doesn’t always look the same—sometimes I spend forever refining before I release. And sometimes I just have to make due with what I have and send it out having only worked through it quickly. But one thing I do is try not to let fear of imperfection hold me back. I hope the same becomes true for you. Be brave as you set out with this new dream of yours! Keep writing and refining your words—and your heart. XO!

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Lenia, you are so right. I hadn’t thought of that but, now that you mention it, it really can be applied to so many other areas in life. I think it all boils down to just taking time to do these things and others, too.

  • Jesika

    This is such great advice. I often don’t, but when I do apply it I have great results.

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Yes, Jesi! It just takes a little time—and then IN time, we’ll get to see the goodness and the growth.

  • Shay Carter

    Oh how I love this!!! Just a few weeks ago I began writing another children’s book and due to the red squiggly lines and my insecurities, I could not get past the first paragraph because I was so focused on editing. Now here I am almost a month later and completely lost my spark for writing this story in the first place.

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Oh no, Shay! I hope this post encourages (and empowers!) you to pick that story back up and keep at it. Those red lines don’t mean anything except to return with revisions later. Instead of listening to your insecurities, keep listening to your imagination. Get back at it, friend! XO!

  • Ryan Rich

    A resounding “YES” to content being the most important thing—by far—in good writing. Proper grammar and spelling are fine. But they’re not worth anything without first relentlessly focusing on the content and the big ideas. So good.

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Ryan—you know this firsthand. Lawyers are essentially writers, constantly wrestling through the presentation of accuracy and meaning and intent. Always love hearing your view points!

  • M. Shelley

    Pow 👏 er 👏 ful! Thank you for writing this, Rachel. What an important reminder!

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Shelly! So good to hear from you, friend! I hope you are still writing and refining those gorgeous words that your heart makes!

  • Aligna

    Oh Rachel I love this! So incredibly helpful for me!! Thank you friend

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Thank you, Aligna. I wonder what you’ve been up to and if you are still writing? I hope so! I love your heart, dear friend.

  • Polly

    Absolutely love this! It is so true and definitely trying to avoid my editorial side of the brain right now whilst I am still in the creative flow! Creativity is beautiful and it needs space as you say! <3

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Yes, Polly! Create and write first—then go back and rework the beauty and might that are both evident in your writing! Love you, dear friend!

  • Christina

    This is great! Love all of this but especially the bit about reading aloud. I haven’t found anything more helpful in the editing process than speaking your words – you uncover all those things you don’t necessarily notice when reading “in your head”.

    • Rachel Kang
      AUTHOR

      Reading aloud for you is especially important, Christina, with the raw beauty and rhythm in your lyrical poems. This is how and when you refine even to the point of syncopation and sound—cadence.

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