Mistake No. 68: Impatience

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.

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