Impatience (Mistake #68)

I see a lot of student papers which come to me a day early.

By that I mean that the writer should not have sent it to me when he sent it – but slept on it instead.

The article-writing process – from the first glimmer of the idea, all the way through to submitting the completed piece to the editor – demands time. I think most writers understand this. You cannot complete the various stages of research and writing and more research and rewriting and editing as you’re waiting for the tea to brew.

But when the final hurdle approaches, I get the sense that some writers choose to sneakily run around it and get to the glory of the finish line that little more easily and that little bit sooner than deep down they know they should.

It’s easy to give in to this temptation. That satisfied, light-shouldered feeling of having put away a piece of work is so appealing that you can, bluntly, cheat a bit when it’s within arm’s reach.

Recognise that the ‘nearly ready to go’ stage is a danger time – a moment when you’re liable to trip up. It’s that time when you are more likely to give your article a cursory read-through when what it needs to be given is a thorough read-through. You’re rushing, you’re skipping words, you’re going ‘blah, blah’ in your head and jumping down to the next paragraph.

The thorough read-through that’s needed may only be bearable after a good night’s sleep – or at least not before you switch your attention to a different piece of work and return to this one later.

If you’re bored of the whole thing, make it your business to find the mistake in your work. Challenge yourself to spot the blooper. We all make errors and, as I’m fond of saying, it’s important that we make them and learn from them and have no shame about them. No piece of work is perfect and there is always room for improvement. Find that one thing. Replace that not-quite-right word for a better word. Is that an extra space? Do you really need that comma? Make it a sort of goal.

The usefulness of this exercise is that if it’s a biggie which you do eventually find, it’ll shake your confidence in the work, somewhat. Well, good. If a massive error has slipped through and you’re on the brink of submitting it, then perhaps you need a reassessment of the rigour of your revision process.

And if it’s only a smallie, then you may be able to find another smallie, and perhaps another, and in a few minutes you’ll have improved your work, and it’ll still have been worthwhile.

And then you can submit it. It’ll still not be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.

I guess this is a call for slowness. In the modern race to dash off words to the world – emails, tweets, texts, facebook updates – I wonder whether we’re getting too speedy at producing words which deserve a more leisurely delivery. You’ll have heard of the Slow Food Movement. Well, I guess I’m advocating a kind of Slow Words Movement. Take it easy. Savour your words – and your revision and editing. Stride that final hurdle with elegance and grace and enjoy the final stretch.

Comments 14

  • Great post. I had a similar thing with a pitch just this week – after crafting it for ages, I left it for a while, had a cup of tea, came back… and realised I'd spelled the ed's name wrong! So glad I didn't rush to press send.

  • Seeing as more magazines seem to be adopting the Slow Payment Movement, this seems fair ;-).

    Ideally, I try to put work aside for a couple of days, if a deadline permits. That way, the initial 'rush' of completing the piece has passed and I find I scrutinise the text more closely. Editing is just as important as writing and, ideally, neither should be rushed!

  • Thanks, Rin! Maybe we should launch an anti-Slow Payment Movement, Simon? Might be time for me to retackle that subject…

  • Something I need to read, re-read and digest. Thoroughly. Thanks for the reassurance and tips, as always.


  • Always welcome – glad it helped!

  • Yes I think I used to fall into this trap in the early days – now I manage to wait and just edit on more time, it's always worth it. Hope your students read your blog.

  • Hi Rob – yeah, I do think it comes with experience. Natural to be a bit excited, sometimes, when you're newer to the game! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Alex.

  • Alex – great post. I think this is one of the hardest things to teach 'beginners' (and even one-step-up-from-beginners). My students often send me 'first drafts' for their homework, which is infuriating (and lazy). Why should I be the one to point out the spelling mistakes, repetitions, change of point of view, etc etc when, if they'd only taken the time to edit their work, they'd have spotted most of them for themselves? Of course, as their tutor, I blame myself. I'm clearly not getting the message across!

  • Thanks Helen. Over-enthusiasm? Thinking about it a bit more, and on reflection, I think when a new writer has a tutor to act as a filter to any mistakes, it's only natural that the student may take less time to edit than if submitting direct to an editor. Perhaps my post underestimates new writers. Perhaps they do fret over a piece of work before submitting it to editors a bit more than I give them credit for… As for you – don't blame yourself! I guess it's just a matter of repeating it until it sinks in. I love that moment as a tutor when a student fails to get something over and over and over again and then – out of the blue – bam. They get it. It's always a cool moment!

  • Great input! I have circled (and still circle) this mountain so many times. Wonderful reminder – thank you!

  • Great post – I had to laugh. This is the toughest thing I've had to learn. "Blah blah" in my head? You bet.

  • Thanks for the extra comments guys.

  • This is painfully me. Usually for one of two reasons. Either I have really had to 'slog' it through what I'm writing and want it done so I can move onto the next, or I've really loved it and I get over-excited.

  • Yes, it's often very difficult to spot your own mistakes as compared with identifying those of others. Distance can certainly help.

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