What is the purpose of your public EDITing practice?

Recently, I’ve listened to a number of programs exploring how we EDIT the stories we tell about ourselves, others and the rest of the world. Ezra Klein did an interview on the role of the editor in creating coherent narratives in journalism and art. TTBOOK did a feature on how we have become a self-creating (self-editing) society.

One thing I like about writing in a virtual forum (e.g. a blog or LinkedIn) – as opposed to publishing a book or article – is that I get to share a few of my thoughts in their current form without having to commit exclusively to any particular formulation of those thoughts as the final, correct one.

Before I started sharing my writing publicly, I recorded my thoughts in the safe space of a private diary. When I look back, though, I realize something was missing: the possibility that anyone else might ever read and be influenced in any way by those thoughts. There was value in recording thoughts for later personal reflection, but the process lacked dynamism because I already (at least thought I) knew what (and how) I thought.

When I started writing in public forums I noticed that I became much more likely to notice the nuances, flaws and hidden assumptions that informed my writing and thought processes. The act of putting my thoughts out in public nudged me to bring a critical eye to the thinking behind my own prose, and the post-publication editing process came to feel like an ongoing process of exploration.

It might be wiser to hide this ongoing editing process from others. I used to keep essays on my computer for years before I risked put them out in public, but recently I’ve decided that my ideas are neither valuable enough to hoard nor valueless enough to hide. They’re just partially-formed thoughts.

Knowing that someone else might read those thoughts triggers an urge to re-edit them until they cohere into something I’m not embarrassed to share. Of course, the squeamish feeling never completely disappears because every reading reveals additional flaws. So I return to re-write the bits that don’t read well even if they felt good when I wrote them. This urge to re-examine my own thinking was weaker when I was writing exclusively for myself.

Although I assume few people read my posts in their the entirety – much less come back to read them multiple times – the possibility that someone might read the current version motivates me to look at it with a critical eye. A close friend once described this feeling as a good kind of “kinchokan” (緊張感 / social nerves or tension).” We edit our “selves” in the context of our relationships with others.

Writing can have many purposes. It can foster social connection, contribute to an important cause, promote a business or personal agenda…These are all worthwhile purposes.

The purpose of my writing is pretty fuzzy. I write mostly as a way to play with ideas and see how they might work – for myself and occasionally even for/with a few other people as well:)

What is the purpose of your public EDITing?



© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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