On Writing (or Why I Will Never Be a Professional Editor)

Did you read my last post?  When did you read it? If you read it yesterday it won't be the same post as it is right now.  The content will be the same, but you will see some newly-edited sentences and better organized paragraphs.

When I write, I can never edit myself the way I need to.  To understand this fully, one needs to look at my typical blogging process.

I come up with the idea for a post in my head.  I write the post mentally, but my thoughts always go off in a new direction.  I realize a post will never stay focused in my head, so I discipline myself to finally sit down and to write the post.  I consider every sentence carefully, editing as I go.

I rarely ever finish a post in one shot.  I'll write only part of it.  I save it and come back to it anywhere from one day to several days later.  I read what I already wrote before continuing on.  I decide I don't like the phrasing of a few sentences, or that some of the larger paragraphs can be broken up.  I fix them and keep writing.

I finally finish the post.  I read it over a few times.  I fix any other awkward phrases and any typos.  Once I have edited it to my satisfaction, I publish it.

A day after I publish it, I panic about whether or not it's any good or if it makes any sense and I go back and read it again.  I discover typos that I missed the first six times I read it.

A few days later I go back and check the stats.  How many page hits do I have?  Do I have many?  Do I have any?  Did anyone comment?  How would I feel if I were a new reader seeing my blog for the first time?  I re-read the post trying to look at with a neutral mindset.  Sure enough, I find more sentences that seem awkward.  I discover another typo.  I decide to break up some of the longer paragraphs.  I add a few more explanatory sentences and edit out anything I feel is redundant..

I find inspiration for a new blog post a few weeks later.   In order to motivate myself to write it down, I go back and read my last few posts.  I discover more edits I want to make.  I realize there are still more typos I never caught the last five times I edited the post.

I was a communications major in college.  I remember my freshman year one of my professors declared at the beginning of a production class, "Projects are never finished.  They come due." Throughout the course of my life that has never changed.  Even if the project is a blog post, which never comes due because I publish on my own schedule, I can never finish a project.  There is always something to change or improve upon.

I have too much overconfidence - or maybe it's arrogance - when it comes to something I produce.  I pour myself into a post.  I edit as I go.  I think and and overthink.  I am sure I know exactly what I want to say.  I pour the words out into the post and I think I am rational and eloquent.  I feel that way that first few times I read it.  I publish it thinking it's fine as it is.

Why can't I edit critically the first time?  I need some distance from my writing after I finish writing it.

For me it's not only about how I edit, but how I write, and in the end, how I think.  I always say I have a train of thought that runs downhill at top speed, often switches, and regularly derails.  

So let's say I get an idea for a new post in my head.  I will immediately start formulating the post in my mind.  The English Department of Harrison High School taught me well when it comes to essays.  I always try to come up with an entertaining introductory paragraph to lead the reader into the meat and potatoes of the post.  That's the easy part.  Once I start thinking about what I will say in the supporting paragraphs, I go off track.

For example, I might want to write piece about how hard it is to walk through NYC and Grand Central Station because commuters and other NYC residents never look where they are going.  That means I have to be vigilant about where I walk.  From here I will wonder if I have it worse than other commuters because my height means I am not directly in many people's line of vision, so nobody sees me until I'm directly underfoot.  This might become a whole other rant within a rant about the perils of being short.

Once I begin composing the post onscreen, my initial goal is to put in on the blog the way I see it in my head.  It was clever in my head.  I need to write it the way I thought of it.

I write it.  I write it with all the derailments because all those distractions from the topic seemed so important when they were in my head.  After I go through the entire editing process, I'm still not sure what should have stayed and what should have gone.  If I go back and read the post, I lack the confidence to believe I didn't ramble too much.  The problem is many of the derailments are integrated into the post enough that I can't find a way to cut them.  Does it mean I put a meaningful example into the essay, does it mean I gave the hypothesis in my intro an interesting new piece of support, or does it mean I rambled too much and I lost the read three paragraphs ago?

I can even provide an live example of post derailment right now.  Let's talk about that post about commuting in NYC.  I was going to take a paragraph or two to talk about how that post has been one I have wanted to write for years, but other topics tend to take priority.  That has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

The internet provided the world with so much information and so much entertainment and it competes with the more traditional forms of entertainment like books, TV, and movies.  If one wants to attract an audience, the content has to be short, sweet, and entertaining.  Nobody wants to look at pages and pages of text (or if one wants to provide that much text, it needs to be entertaining beyond the usual).  If I can't create a post that is crisp, straightforward, witty, and to the point, nobody is going to read it.

Since I also write a food blog, and often rely on food blogs for recipe ideas, I know the frustration of having to deal with too much filler content.  Sometimes readers don't want the cute story about how the blogger sourced a particular ingredient or managed to please a finicky eater with an unusual dish.  I have seen enough online critique of food blogs begging food bloggers to, "Just give me the recipe."  (I don't mind the cute stories most of the time.  I am tired of scrolling past all the ads and popups begging me to subscribe to their newsletters.)  I think that applies not only to my food blog*, but to this blog too.  I need to get to "the recipe" more.  If my supporting paragraphs aren't directly related to the topic I introduced, they need to be cut.

Will I cut them?  Maybe I want them in because I want to share a different story . Will I at least put them in there with no typos and clean, clear, sentences?

There is a certain irony in the fact that I am a huge grammar nerd.  Spelling, vocabulary, and usage (especially usage) are oversized concerns of mine.  My desire for a well-spoken, well-written world is rarely reflected in my own writing.  There will always be something poorly written, sloppily typed, or incorrectly punctuated that needs attention.  There is a good chance it might never get the attention it needs.

I wonder what will change when I come back to this post a week from now?


*I confess, my food blog never "just gets to the recipe."  In my opinion, there is no point to a food blog if there is no story attached to the recipe.  It's an online cookbook.  

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