One of the most critical lessons that I have learnt in my quest to be a good writer is the importance of editing my own written work. It is critical because small mistakes such as typos, grammatical errors or missed words can break the flow of your readers and make the whole experience much less enjoyable than you have intended it to be.
This is not to say that all my written pieces are embodiments of perfection. Far from it. Many times when I am reading through the archives of this blog, I find some mistake that I ought to have not made in the first place. And for that I apologise to you, dear reader. But having said that, I have found mistakes in many NY Times bestsellers that I have read recently. Of course there are few mistakes but even one mistake makes me wonder about how could they have missed it!
The effort put into editing is well worth the time even if the time you spend editing your own writing is often double the amount of time you spent actually writing it. I know that on the face of it, it may not seem convincing but a simple cost-benefit analysis should surely convince you.
Consider that you just spent 30 minutes writing a 500 word article that will be read by only 100 people in the life time of that article. If an average reader reads at a pace of 250 words per minute then all your readers spent in all about 200 minutes reading your article. Now I am hoping you will realise that if you spent another 30 minutes of your time on that article to correct a few mistakes, polish the language, etc. then the people who read your article will really appreciate having spent those two minutes on that article and may be even reward you by reading one more of your articles.
You may wonder, what if you don’t have 100 people reading your written work. Why care then? I would argue that even if your article (or letter or email) is intended for only one person, the time spent editing is well worth it. And here’s why: every written piece of work intended for an individual, a group or a whole community carries a message that is to be delivered to the audience. Any mistakes made in the written piece of work will distract your reader and will make you lose any attention that you were expecting to get. If you want the message to be delivered effectively then it would be expected of you to pay attention to detail.
What do you think of a gift that comes impeccably wrapped? Even before you open it, you have in your mind the assumption that the giver must have really cared about giving this to you. Why else would they have gone to the trouble of using a good wrapping paper, cutting the edges with scissors and sticking tape in the right places? Suddenly, the contents of the gift will seem to be much better than if you had received the same thing in a badly wrapped version of the gift.
That is the same feeling that a person has when they read a flawless piece of writing compared to one that has many mistakes. The contents of the writing might be the same but the way it is presented makes a big difference.
Of course, I don’t have to remind you about the importance of why covering letters for applications or submissions (theses) towards a degree or the likes of such written pieces that need to be perfect. These documents carry their worth with them and we pay attention to them without thinking twice. But why don’t we do the same for everyday writing?
The art of editing gets better with practice. I bet that you will spend half the time editing the same length of written piece in a month’s time from now, if you do it on a regular basis. Finding mistakes becomes easier with time. Even if it seems like a large investment of time today, it will be well worth it in the future.
I feel bad when I receive emails from my high school English teacher with typos in them. I worry about the future of The Spirit when I read articles with multiple mistakes in one article. I wonder how much did the person who sent me an email with missed words really care about writing that email to me. But mostly, I feel ashamed when my pieces of writing appears in print with a mistake that I overlooked. The lesson, of course, is to edit your own writing.