Editing is Metanoia: When You Edit Your Writing, Focus on Making it Better and Not on Your Mistake

Do you write?

If you write, then you should edit what you write.

But maybe you don't like editing your work or having it edited by someone else.

In the book Writing Without Bullshit, Josh Bernoff proposes a way to think about the editing process that eliminates the unpleasantness associated with editing.

The Problem: Editing Feels Like a Chore Imposed on Me for My Mistakes

Writing is a process, and that process includes editing, and editing brings unpleasantness.

Editing might show you that:

  • a sentence is a jumbled mess,
  • a paragraph is out of place and therefore confusing, or
  • an entire section is entirely unnecessary and a new one is needed instead.

None of that is pleasant. More work — more writing — will be required to fix it.

And that post-edit writing feels like work you have to do because of a mistake, a screwup, a stupid oversight.

No one like likes making mistakes, being a screwup, or overlooking things stupidly.

So editing feels unpleasant to us. We focus on our mistakes and suffer through more work that our mistakes have brought upon us.

Josh Bernoff's Solution: Approach Editing as an Opportunity To Exercise Your Insight About Improvement

In the book Writing Without Bullshit, Josh Bernoff discusses the negative view of editing (the "editing shows me my stupid mistakes" view) and concludes:

If accepting an edit mean accepting your own imperfections, you'll resist.

Yes.

If in the editing process you focus primarily on your confusing sentences, your poorly placed paragraphs, and your unnecessary chunks of text as mistakes, you won't like it.

And no one wants to do things they don't like. We resist.

What has this suggested edit revealed about what could be better here?

So instead of thinking about editing in that negative way ("Now I'll see how my writing sucks."), Bernoff suggest that you should ask this question:

What has this suggested edit revealed about what could be better here?

This is a good question, because it demands that you, the writer, look for what ways to improve your own writing.

You focus not so much on the problem or the "mistake," but on the possibility of making your writing better.

As Bernoff puts it:

You seek a higher truth, a more profound way to communicate without bullshit.

Amen. Don't focus on the negative — your mistake or your lack of clarity. Focus on the chance to make it better.

Editing as Metanoia

This approach to editing is like the Catholic approach to confession and repentance, which is called metanoia in Greek.

Do you need to acknowledge your sin, your fault, your mistake? Yes.

Do you let that sin, fault, or mistake define you? Do you focus on it? No.

You confess the sin and turn toward the Truth, and you seek to amend your life and live in virtue. Genuine metanoia turns toward the good and focuses on improvement.

So think of editing your writing as a kind of metanoia.

It's good for you.