The dreaded “self-edit” acts as the bane of most writers’ existence. After pouring yourself into a carefully crafted piece for so long—draining blood, sweat, and tears in the process—it can be overwhelming to then restructure, reformat, and (oh please, no!) cut out portions of text. You’re attached to the writing, you’re invested in the experience, and you’re determined to share your story with the world—so why do you now need to edit it? New studies are proving, however, that this dreaded “self-edit” can actually prove therapeutic, in the same vein as writing and art therapies. Shaping a personal narrative is therapeutic in its own right, but the act of further cultivating and honing this narrative through a self-editing process can lead individuals to completely reprocess their own understanding of the world around them.
“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go. . . . I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”—Dr. James Pennebaker, social psychologist
The notion of editorial therapy is a new one, but the therapeutic impact of honest and free self-expression has long been proven. On a basic level, proofreading and editing can act as a soothing therapeutic release and mental escape, leading to an internal sense of calm and well-being, especially after completion. On an even deeper therapeutic level, self-editing (writing—and then rewriting—your own personal narrative) has been proven to elevate happiness, effect behavioral changes, and ultimately lead to a more honest perception of your own personal reality, as opposed to the inflated narrative originally written by 3 a.m. candlelight. By taking the time to view how your narrative comes across to others, you are able to actually become honest with yourself and the story you are trying to tell, leading to self-reflection, honest assessment, identification of problems (and their sources), and an overall healthier reflection on yourself and the reality in which you live.
If we argue that writing in and of itself is a form of therapeutic release, it follows naturally that editing would also prove therapeutic in that it provides the opportunity to alter how that therapeutic release will come across to a reader. In terms of self-editing specifically, it also provides the opportunity to be sure that what you’re writing on the page is actually what you’re trying to say. In those late-night binge writing sessions, it is easy to romanticize and sentimentalize all that is on your mind. Through a self-editing process, it can be difficult to move past those feelings and objectively view the writing in front of you (which you are likely incredibly attached to, 3 a.m. angst and all). Yet the act of self-editing can help any writer move past this sentimental “inner voice” and toward more streamlined writing, focused on honest, deliberate intent. It is only through this that perceptions are altered, meaning behind experience is found, and the deepest sense of truth is told. Editorial therapy through self-editing allows us to uncover the truth, finally understand it for ourselves, and communicate it to others in the most effective way that we, as writers, can.