Writing vs. Editing Requires Switching Hats

lots of hatsMy colleague Barbara McNichol specializes in helping speakers and authors edit their nonfiction books. Her recent blog post about the different approaches required for writing versus editing struck me as excellent advice for any writer with a project or assignment that has to be perfect, whether for work, for school or for publication.

Barbara’s guidelines will help make both you and me better writers and editors. Her entire post follows, but you also may link to her site for full details about Barbara and her services.

Writing and Editing: You Wear Two Different Hats

by Barbara McNichol   |   June 6, 2016

Just as you’d wear a straw-brimmed hat in the sunshine and a rain cap in the pouring rain, remember the importance of wearing two different hats when you’re writing versus editing your nonfiction book.

One hat represents the creative process; the other deals with the critical process. Attempting to edit as you write can dampen your creativity, as I learned when working with an author recently. Because she was on a fast track to get her book printed, she had me editing the beginning chapters while she was still writing the middle and final chapters. What happened? She had to interrupt her writing flow to give me feedback on the chapters I’d sent back. It affected her ability to move forward smoothly, plus we had trouble keeping track of our progress. What frustration!

Differences Between Writing and Editing

In retrospect, we needed to put on the brakes and say, “Each task—writing and editing—demands a separate and specific focus.” Here are three reasons why:

  • When editing your own work, your mind can fill in, correct, or overlook errors. It’s easy to miss things that should be corrected—like missing words and inconsistencies.
  • When you put a week or two between completing a draft and reviewing it, you break the link between what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote.
  • Once a first draft is finished, if you rush in to evaluate it too quickly, you haven’t allowed your brain to “hang out in the shade and cool.” That’s when you mentally step back and “see” gaps in information, research, and logic. Taking a “big picture” look also enables you to see what fits and what doesn’t.

Create Even More Separation

What can you do to separate writing from editing even more?

  • When you reread your work, reformat it by changing the font, margins, line spacing, and other elements so it tricks the mind and looks like a new document.
  • Keep wearing your creativity hat and go through each chapter asking these important questions:
  1. Is it complete from a content point of view? What’s missing?
  2. Have I included all the facts and stories I want to meet my objectives for this chapter?
  3. Can I take out any content that doesn’t fit?

Once you have answered these satisfactorily, you’re ready for the critical process to take over. While wearing your editing hat, leave behind your content questions and look for the elements of good writing—style, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and so on. And when you’re ready for feedback, call in an objective editor who can apply both the creative and critical process to perfecting your manuscript.


Thanks, Barbara, for permission to share your excellent post.

How many of you have tips that have proven helpful in editing your own work? Please share!

As an expert editor, Barbara McNichol proudly helps authors change the world with their well-crafted words. She specializes in editing articles, websites, and nonfiction books in the areas of business, self-help, how-to, memoir, relationships, spirituality, and more. Her Word Trippers Tips provide an excellent resource to improve your writing. Visit her website at www.BarbaraMcNichol.com or email her at editor@barbaramcnichol.com

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)