Mixed feelings about editing

I think when an essay is edited it tends to get worse before it gets better. I’ve heard a few anecdotes lately about how authors end up writing the second half of their book in one sitting with no editing. They tend to attribute this to flow but I have another explanation. Editing can hurt a piece a lot. When someone is speaking you generally get the flow of their thoughts and understand them without them having to pick over their words ahead of time for hours. Receiving comments in a group essay can encourage an author to try to accommodate every view point and possible counter argument. Even adding things in can weaken an essay. I find that when I go back and add one sentence it hurts the flow of the adjacent sentences. For a blog I think editing is only useful to look up facts and citations but it’s hard to break the habit. There’s clearly a point where laboriously editing a small piece will make the piece better than the original but I wonder how often we, as a practical matter, actually reach it. I had a professor in college who insisted all copies of papers be turned in because he said without that he’d change back things he had already changed. Saying this would make me question my purpose in life, but he didn’t bat an eye at it.

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