Learning to write without editing 

I was reading through old journals yesterday in the hopes of finding entries on my relationship to running, or any running-related emotions I might have had over the years. Although some of my notebooks date back more than twenty years and several chronical my high school and college days when running was my most constant companion, running was a rare topic of discussion.

Even the entries from the summer I attended a week-long running camp focused more on the cliques (of which I was not a part, to my dismay), my loneliness, and Virginia Woolfe’s To the Lighthouse (my light summer-camp reading -perhaps related to my lack of friends?).

Prevalent, however, especially in my post-college years, was a desire to write without a filter. In high school, I heard a novelist speak about her process. In addition to writing for a set amount of time every morning without fail, she said she edits everything she writes, including emails. This was at once gratifying and damning: I too, edited even the least consequential bit of text I wrote and her words validated and reinforced my habit; but they also introduced the irrational belief that writing must be edited to be good. Good writers edit, good writers are careful, good writers keep first drafts to themselves. Bad writers share their sloppy first drafts because they don’t know any better.

I wanted to be a good writer, and so this belief grew, encouraged by teachers and professors who covered my papers with pen-marks as they taught me how to tighten, choose the right words for every context, and craft water-tight arguments for my ideas. I learned well, and grew to love the back and forth of the editing process. Culling words and paragraphs in order to create a perfect paper. I reveled in the hours spent refining research papers in the library, churning out draft after draft.

And then I graduated college and the stakes changed: I was no longer writing for grades but for pleasure. I tried to blog but the enormity of the shift from academic to real-life writing caused me to freeze. Away from the editing pen of my professors, how would I know when I had achieved success?

Further, the only way I knew how to write anymore was through long, detailed research papers. I no longer had the time nor the resources to churn out thirty-page tomes on the cultural relevance of obscure buildings or the relationship between Jaques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. And my writing faltered. I became tripped up in my desire for perfection, my desire to edit every bit of writing until it was deserving of the pedestal I had crafted for it in my mind’s eye. I envied other bloggers, whose breezy style taunted my own taught sentences. Their pieces read as if the thoughts moved from mind to fingers to screen, with no intermediate hair-pulling or over-analyzing to find the perfect description of anything.

In their easiness, they gained the status of perfection. Meanwhile I anguished over the way to create the most impressive, meaningful, and world-changingly observant essays. And wrote nothing but strings of (unpublishable) first drafts. I had many ideas but was stymied by my need for perfection. I could not let loose, even though I knew my audience was nonexistent.

My journals from this time are filled with pages in which I yearn to write without editing. In which I revile my inability to write with ease. In which I promise to start publishing first drafts (today! tomorrow! the next tomorrow!). I did publish a few pieces on that early blog but they were rare and heavily edited.

I have many stops and starts with blogging and writing since then, inching closer and closer each time to my goal of writing in a way that feels unforced. In a way I find sustainable and enjoyable.

This blog represents a certain success with writing. I still struggle to share my thoughts and I am constantly resisting the urge to edit before I hit publish. Sometimes this means sloppy sentences or meandering points. Sometimes I wonder if points are even made. But I am okay with this looseness, this freedom with form and language. Life is hard and change takes time but it is so gratifying to see these results after years of effort.

I feel a huge lift of pressure with this latest project: I can be myself, and that is enough. I do not have to be perfect. I do not really even want to be perfect. I just want to write. And I am. For the first time since childhood, I am writing without anxiety. I am writing for the joy of seeing my thoughts on page. I am am writing for the gratification of solving a problem through words. I am writing for me.

Thank you for listening.

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One thought on “Learning to write without editing 

  1. It is quite liberating to write without editing and when I go back to stuff I had written it still rings true. Something about first thoughts and words are very real, they spring unfiltered and raw. Wish you well with your writing journey.

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