Mixing writing with editing is an easy mistake for newbie writers to make, because many mainstream writing methods actually do encourage writers to edit as they write. So, a lot of writers who haven’t yet found their own unique rhythm as an artist follow this advice. And it does work for some. I personally know writers who can’t write any other way. However, if you are an intuitive writer—if you are an INFJ or INFP personality type, highly sensitive, or an empath—the chances are high that editing as you write is going to spell disaster for you.
What does editing as you write look like? Well, it might be that you write the first chapter or two of the novel that’s been swimming around in your head for a year, and then you immediately give those first couple of chapters to your friends for feedback. Or, it might be that you’re halfway through writing your book and then you join a critique group and you give them samples and sections to critique. It could be that you write only the very first sentence of your work, and then you immediately go back and begin crossing out words and rewriting it.
Whatever it looks like for you, the idea is basically the same. You write something and then you evaluate and judge it, and usually doubt it and then change it. If you’re an intuitive writer, you almost always feel worse after the process and much less like writing anything new at all. If anything, you probably feel like you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole.
Editing as you write doesn’t work well for intuitive writers for one very big reason. Intuitive writers are intuitive people, and intuitive people are primarily rooted in a right-brain consciousness approach to life. Meaning, we feel most at home with symbol and metaphor, and abstract, big-picture thinking. We are sensitive to art and beauty and emotion, and we can become easily drained when we have to pay too much attention to small details and routine tasks.
For us to be at our most creative—and have the most fun with our creativity and get the most joy out of it—we need to use a writing method that lets us write while remaining as fully as possible in the right brain side of life. When we begin editing, which of necessity involves critical thinking, deciding, and judging, we move into the left brain and away from our creative center. Or, in other words, we shift out of our natural orientation, kind of like when you’re right-handed but try to write with your left hand, or vice versa.
Editing while writing is one guaranteed way to tear ourselves out of the right-brain, intuitive space, and so is giving our work to other people before we’ve finished an entire sloppy first draft. When we receive external comments on our writing, it can trigger anxiety, even if the comments are positive. This might sound odd to say, but it’s true, because even when we get positive feedback on our work it puts a set of expectations in place, even if that’s only in our own minds. If someone reads our first two chapters and can’t stop raving about them, our ego quickly goes to work trying to figure out a way it can get more of the same kind of praise, and because the part of our brain that feeds off rewards wants to find a strategy to push that same button over and over again, much of the time we end up writing in a direction that we know will get us more praise, regardless of where the story truly needs to go.
The best way for intuitive writers to stay in the right-brain, intuitive space while writing is to save any and all editing for AFTER the entire first sloppy draft is completed. For writers who struggle with impatience, this can be tough, because many intuitive writers tend to write slowly, so it’s not unheard of for a first draft to take two or three, or even four years, to complete. But even though the impatience around reaching the finish line might feel unbearable at times, giving in and going back to editing while writing is not going to make things move along any faster for the intuitive writer. If anything, it will only derail the creative process yet again and we’ll be back to square one, feeling defeated about our project and like a failure as a writer.
The best approach I’ve found for intuitive writers is to keep the writing process wholly separate from the editing process, even if it’s inconvenient and/or tests your patience. Letting yourself explore the story creatively, without judging it at all, while at the same time keeping it private, either just to yourself or between you and a trusted writing coach, is the key to letting your book ripen within you and come into being out in the world in its own time. This natural cycle of growth and blossoming is a creative cycle you can trust. Your book will break out of the seed and grow into what it’s supposed to be, if you just let it, without trying to control it or determine its outcome.
And that might be the hardest thing for intuitive writers to learn as artists, that it’s not all up to you. Writing a book is always a co-creative process.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Intuitive Writing, a six-step online video course for INFJ and INFP writers who struggle with writing. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.