Avoiding Editing Heartbreak

From PhD Comics, http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1733

How often have you sat at your computer, hands ready at your keyboard, when your mind completely blanks? I  have definitely had these moments, as well as times when I start to question everything. Is this correct? Are my ideas interesting? Am I even spelling that word correctly? Writer’s block can come in many forms (or sometimes, just an excuse to check social media re: my last blog post). And then, once you get over that writer’s block, you’re left with what could be the difficult process of editing.

Recently, a professor gave me the advice that you need to have other eyes look over your work before you become attached to it. In other words, you need to start getting feedback from others when your draft is in one of its roughest forms. His thoughts were that heavy edits or suggestions would have a less devastating impact on a writer if he/she had not spent a long period of time perfecting it from his/her own perspective beforehand. So in some ways, he was giving me advice on how to avoid academic heartbreak.

I find this advice challenging. I am a first-year graduate student, and this past academic year has been filled with fellowship applications, final papers, article summaries, etc. For many of these, I sought feedback from my advisor, labmates, and other colleagues. I know that my writing thrives by getting feedback and edits from my peers. I also know that I want to make a good impression on my new colleagues, so I am hesitant to have them read over a draft I haven’t edited heavily on my own. How do I reach a balance between wanting my writing to impress my readers but also allowing myself to be critiqued at an early stage in the writing process?

I decided that I would start by forcing myself to heed this advice. Over the last week, I had to write an article intended for a broad audience as part of the ComSciCon workshop in which I am participating. We were expected to write a rough draft, and then send it for edits to our working groups of 4-5 other participants by last Friday. I wrote my draft, and after looking it over a few times, I forced myself to press send. Normally, that “few” times would be closer to 50 before I sent it to others to read, but it was time to try out this new method.

Overall, I’m glad I did it. My reviewers really liked my ideas and had some pretty concrete suggestions for how to make my argument clearer and more engaging to my reader. That being said, I think, at this point in my career, in which my colleagues are often reading my writing for the first time, I will try to make my rough drafts a little more smooth on my own. I think what I will try to do is recognize areas in my writing where I am struggling, and point that out to my editors as areas where I hope to receive suggestions. How do you approach the writing/editing process?


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