Self-Editing: My Writing Affliction

Some people see writing as an outpouring of words. The Muse visits, and words appear on the page. Not for me. My writing is more of an extraction—and a painful one at that. More times than not, I feel like I’m pulling out every word by force.

The truth is, I’m a chronic self-editor—maybe because I was a professional editor for fifteen years and old habits die hard. Or maybe because I’m a tiny bit obsessive. So when my writer friends say things like, “I write two-thousand words a day,” or “I wrote my first draft in three months,” I’m like, “Never in a million years could I do that.”

And it’s all because I can’t stop self-editing. I know how much self-editing slows me down, so I’ve tried not to do it. I’ve tried writing a thousands words without worrying about how terrible they might be. I spent a week doing just that and, yeah, I got the words out, and, yeah, I increased my page count by fifty pages. But you know what? I ended up scrapping all of it. Not because it was terrible writing (well, maybe just a little), but because writing off the top of my head means my characters tend to go on long, wandering trips—and sometimes they don’t come back. For some reason, I don’t feel like I can move on without getting a scene just where I want it. It’s hard for me to start a scene if I don’t know where the one before it left off.

Like other writers I know, I’ve spent a fair amount of time beating myself up for my shortcomings. And even though I wish I was one of those writers who could dash off a novel in a few months, I’ve come to realize that self-editing as I write is part of my process. So I’ve come to terms with my affliction. Because even though self-editing makes me a slow writer, it also makes me a careful writer. (Notice how I said “careful” and not “obsessive.”) Maybe someday, I’ll find a cure.

Melody Maysonet

Melody has been an English teacher, editor, and ghostwriter. Now she devotes most of her time to writing fiction for young adults. She lives in Coconut Creek, Florida, with her husband and son. Her debut novel, A Work of Art (Merit Press) is out in stores now.

2 Comments

  1. Michael   •  

    Hi Melody,

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. Sometimes I’ll write a great paragraph, but read it again and again and again just to make sure it sounds perfect or blends in well with the others. It’s like there’s an itch of doubt in my mind making me return to previous sentences. Eventually, those once powerful words become meaningless to me—my brain feels drained of creative juice and I start doubting whether they were powerful in the first place.

    I just read a book called, ‘If you can talk, you can write’ which helped me realize I’m not alone with perfectionism/self-doubt/paralysis when it comes to writing.

    P.S. I’ve scanned over and edited this comment several times. I’m ready to hit the Post Comment button … wait, one more edit … okay I’m back … now!

    • Melody Maysonet   •     Author

      Hi, MIchael. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Misery loves company and all that. Thanks for the tip on the book. I’m sure it will help me as well. In the meantime, I’m trying to get better, and I can honestly say that I haven’t edited this reply at all (well, maybe a teensy bit).

      Happy writing!

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