“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway
Since I joined Medium a few weeks ago, the sheer volume of incredible writing on the site has left me floored. Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered my fair share of great articles bogged down by the most rudimentary writing infractions, ranging from repeating the same word twice to failing to include ending punctuation.
As I’m sure you can guess, I’ve sent many a private note discussing these grammatical hiccups. I don’t send them to show that I’m a grammar snob and that they should be ashamed of their mistake — that’s not what any of us should be here to do. I simply do it to demonstrate to even well-known writers that they, too, would benefit from reading over their work before publishing.
These minor issues don’t eliminate the article’s intrinsic value — I’ve seen articles with these issues written by Medium-famous authors with well over 10,000 claps and hundreds of comments — but they certainly call the authority of the author into question. After all, if you’re publishing a piece about your writing process but confuse they’re, their and there, are you really someone whose words they should take seriously?
In a writing economy where we are desperate to capture the eyes of dizzyingly inattentive readers, minor grammatical errors can, at best, throw off a reader’s flow, but at worst demonstrate to the reader your piece isn’t worth their time.
This isn’t to say that everyone needs to achieve perfection the first time; after all, a litany of articles on this site explain that unchecked perfectionism is an obstacle to creativity. Everyone deserves to have a moment to simply unload their thoughts on the page without the pressure of checking or editing.
But to make that first draft your final draft is like serving soup right after putting all its ingredients in a pot together. Sure, it’s edible, and certainly won’t get anyone sick, but it lacks the complexity of a dish that’s simmered for hours, one that’s had the time to let all the individual flavors meld together and intensify.
What’s more frustrating is that a thorough read over the work or an advanced writing aid like Grammarly would catch most, if not all, of these issues. The ubiquity of these typos makes it clear, though, that writers aren’t taking time to proofread their own work before hitting that precious publish button. Deliberately choosing not to utilize either of these last defenses does a disservice to your reader, your writing, and yourself as a writer.
I know why people do it — the publish button’s temptation is palpable. Sometimes, the idea of sharing work can be so anxiety-inducing that blindly hitting publish is one of the only ways you send your piece out into the world. Other times, you think about what you just wrote and you’re certain that the piece you just wrote is perfect, that your prose rivals the literary greats, your topic is amazing, and you know it’ll get tons of claps, comments, and maybe even make you some cash.
Regardless of how your work makes you feel when you put that metaphorical pen down, a closer look can always improve it.
Editing helps you to be more certain of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, stymieing the stress of sharing your art in the process. Even if you’re certain you’ve laid out your thoughts as eloquently as you can muster, editing gives you an opportunity to ensure that your memory matches your reality. Whether it’s taking time to consider a different word choice to realizing a hole in your argument or research, editing your piece can improve your confidence in your work and your readers’ ability to comprehend it.
We all want to be better writers — that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We all dream of the day when we show up to our word processor and write the next great American novel or the most moving personal essay, as if the words were always at the tips of our fingers and all we had to do was sit down at our desks and bring it to life in one go.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, even for some of the greatest writers in history. But we can be a bit more like them and edit, edit, edit, for it’s in the revisions that we find the best ways to say what we’ve always wanted to say.
Credit: Writing Cooperative