Spew and Write First, Edit Second

Yes, you have to edit. While you write, though? How about not?

I’m not talking here about minor edits where you are catching errors and assisting with the overall construction of your document as you go. (I recommend doing that because it’s so easy to forget if you say you’ll come back to it.) But what I’m talking about here is letting worry and insecurity dictate what the content you write will be.

Now, some awareness of your audience is a good thing. But to really find your own rhythm and voice, you have to spew as freely as you can.

spew and write

AFTER you spew, you can go back and think critically about what you’ve included, tweak things, etc. You can go and get feedback to make sure the content is going to hit the way you intended. Doing that involves deliberate, rational choices.

But if you censure on the fly as you write, you might end up deleting exactly what makes your work stand out. I do NOT want you to do that. What I want you to do is find the balance between authenticity and consideration of the people you’re talking to from the page.

What prevents writers from spewing

Some writers have difficulty spewing because they’re so convinced they have to get everything perfect right away. That pressure for perfection might come from the way they were raised, but it also can come from other sources, such as going to a school that had harsh penalties for failing. Other writers are too insecure. They’re too scared to venture into the uncharted, freer territory that spewing without self-censureship requires. Other writers just don’t trust that writing is really a skill they have. They’re constantly searching for what they think sounds good, rather than trusting their gift.

3 exercises to let more uncensored words come out when you write

Whatever the reason you struggle to spew, you can overcome it. Start small.

A good beginner exercise is to challenge yourself to get through at least three sentences (about a paragraph) without deleting or reviewing anything. Increase the number of sentences required before a pause over time.

You also can try dictating some of your ideas, as most people don’t repeatedly stop when they verbally communicate. Many people find that, once they see how much flows out when they talk, they can trust that the concepts are inside of them. From there, you can try typing out your concepts as you slowly speak them. Then, stop speaking and only write.

A final option is to use colors. Write as much as you can without stopping. Then go back and color code repeated information or information that ties to the same concept. Then all you have to do is pull like colors together and remove the redundancy. For some people, this is a good middle ground, because even though you’re not allowed to edit on the fly, you are allowed to immediately try to visualize the connections between everything you’re spewing so it’s easy to clean up when you’re done. The color coding can make you more aware of how much you rephrase points or get into the weeds so that, over time, you’ll learn to spew with fewer and fewer unrelated or repeated concepts.

[Transcript summary]

Let me see if you have ever been holding your pen or been at your keyboard, and you’re typing away. You’re typing, and then you think to yourself, “That’s crap!” and hit delete. It’s gone.

Now, what if that was the best sentence that you were going to write all day and you just censored it because you thought it was crap?

This is a common problem that we have as writers — we self-judge as we are writing. I have found it to be the biggest no-no that you can do as a writer.

The biggest favor that you can do for yourself as a writer is to just write and edit later. Do not put that inner critic on as you are writing. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it sounds coming out. When you are typing it out is not the time to censure and to edit. The time for that is later. See what you can turn out first. There might be a lot of crap, and that’s okay. But you will not know if you are constantly saying, “Oh. Nope! Oh. Nope!” and not even letting yourself get into a state of flow. It’s a different mindset where you say, “I’m going to be permissive here, and whatever comes, comes. There might not be a whole lot that I can salvage and that’s okay. But I’m going to get into that state of flow. I’m not going to edit as I go, so that I can maybe I can get those gems that will come out if I’m in that better state.” So, write first, edit second.