5 Tips for Overcoming Editor's Block

We’ve all been there—sitting at our laptop, staring at an essay draft. You know it needs to be better, or you want it to be, but you don’t know how. This is the dreaded phenomenon I call "editor’s block."

I went to a high school where, generally, I could get by without editing essays. I fell on the upper end of the achievement spectrum, and my unedited essays were on par with classroom expectations. I think this is a relatively common experience among Kenyon students who went to less competitive high schools, and who are generally good writers. This, though, means I came to college with a big question: how are you supposed to edit an essay? Here are some things I’ve learned on my own, and some tips people have given me. 

 

Print it out, mark it up. 

This is one way to get some distance from your writing. Go for a fun color, or cover it in red pen. Try and pretend that this is just some essay you’re reading, not something you wrote. Don’t be too harsh on yourself (it’s just a draft!) but try for objectivity. 

 

Rewrite it. 

Even if you’re just typing it into a different document, the act of physically re-writing the words makes you think them over again more closely than just rereading them. If you don’t have the time for this, pick one section or paragraph that isn’t working and rewrite that. 

Put it in a different font or color. 

This is a fun way to get a new perspective. Using a different font or color can make it easier to spot errors. This is another way to get some distance from your writing - a different font especially can make it seem like a different voice. I’m partial to the bolded fonts that look like handwriting, in a bright color.  

 

Go to a different physical location. 

Some of my favorite spots at Kenyon are Wiggin Street, third-floor ascension, or a blanket on the lawn. Putting yourself in a different headspace gives you a mental refresh, often providing some fresh ideas. If what I need is nit-picky editing, I like a silent space like Ascension where nothing will distract me. If I need some more creative brainstorming, I like a space with a little more activity, like Wiggin Street Cafe. If I don’t know what I need, I like to lay on a picnic blanket outside—it’s a good balance. 

 

Read it out loud. 

Even better—record yourself and listen back to it. Good writing should flow well when spoken as well as when written. Also, it can be a lot easier to identify awkward phrasing and grammar when you’re reading out loud as opposed to in your head. 

These suggestions are certainly not scientific—there’s not one way to edit an essay, but these are things that have helped me when I have editor’s block, and at a minimum give you something to do besides stare at your word document wishing the words will magically become better. 

This list is, of course, by no means a checklist, and just like you shouldn’t turn something in without giving it at least a proof-read, there can be harm in over-editing. There’s no such thing as the perfect essay, and there reaches a point where your essay is good enough. These tips are just a jumping-off point, something to use when you’re facing editors block and need somewhere to start or something new to try. 

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