Editing your essay, short story, blog post, or dissertation is not much different than a meditation practice. You’re acknowledging what doesn’t belong, no matter how groundbreaking or inspiring it may be, and letting it go. You’re transforming individual words into a cohesive piece of writing.
Editing can feel like a lot of things. It can feel rushed, painstaking, and hopeless. It can feel like the one sure sign that you should have never been a writer to begin with; just look at all of those horrid errors and messy sentences! These feelings can magnify your repulsion for the process as you begin to associate it with a self-deprecating blame fest. I’ve found that the process of editing can feel most inviting and nourishing when I see it as an act of compassion for my readers.
The basic rationale is as follows: The less editing I do, the more time they waste. They will spend more attention deciphering my typos and misused words than feeling the smooth joy of a perfect sentence. They will squint furiously as they re-read the run-ons, rather than feeling their shoulders automatically relax as they let the perfectly expressed point guide them to joyful presence. The more editing I do, the more they can enjoy the writing for what I intended it to be.
Editing as an act of compassion for readers not only benefits their experience; it also makes the process much more nourishing for the writer. If I’m editing as an act of compassion, my heart is full and present as I highlight and delete, squinting with gentle curiosity for missing commas and gently catching stray adverbs like fish to examine their value before letting them go. My heart is tender and present. I’m not wandering on the deeply sloped trail of blame and self-ridicule, causing my heart to hide and shiver in fear.
I will catch plenty of errors, but I can do it without getting as hung up on the spiral of self-doubt. If it starts to arise, I can see it for what it is, letting it go for the integrity of the compassionate heart that I’m using in the moment.
I can let go of great sentences; sentences that I’m sure are the finest I’ve ever written. If they don’t match the tone of the essay, they’re better off gone. It hurts less now than it used to.
When a brilliant thought arises on the cushion, it’s OK to let it go and come back to the natural breath of your body. The natural breath of the essay, the dissertation, the blog post, and the fictional story can be watched and witnessed as well. The pattern of that breath can be accepted and deemed more valuable in the moment than extraneous notions that arise.
Cooking is a great time to indulge thoughts about eating. When sitting on the cushion, those thoughts can dissipate. If you’re writing an essay about Carl Rogers and his client-centred therapy approach, there are only so many sentences that are relevant and appropriate for your audience.
There will always be enough words to go around. We don’t have to cling to each and every one that comes from our fingers. As well, there will always be mistakes, run-on sentences, and poorly written dialogue. These things will happen, and they will need to be edited. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for them or judge ourselves harshly. That we caught them at all was the point—that was the success.
The piece will shine for this effort, the reader will sit back in their chair comfortably, even if it’s made of hard wood and warped metal. They will feel the pure taste of your words because you took the time to boil off the extra water, to pull out the bay leaves and remove the fine bones from the celery. You put in that time so that they didn’t have to, and that is why they will love you, and that is why you will love the process of editing.