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The Value of the Reboot

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You may occasionally find yourself in a situation where you write a piece and don’t like the finished product. For some reason, it just doesn’t sit well with you. Maybe it doesn’t express your point as clearly as you’d like. Maybe the writing seems dull and lifeless. Maybe you get the impression you’re taking the wrong angle on your topic.

The place to take up these concerns is in the editing phase. So, if you’re concerned that your piece is lifeless, you can analyze your use of language and figure out how to make your writing livelier. The same goes for enhancing clarity. But sometimes you can edit in earnest and still not like the finished product. What then?

Sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away from the existing draft and start again. This is an unappealing option, to be sure, given the work you’ve already done. But it’s possible to exhaust yourself when editing, especially if you have been trying to manipulate your document into something it doesn’t want to be. You don’t want this to happen.

Suppose you get the impression you’re taking the wrong angle on your topic, as mentioned above. It’s possible to rectify this problem through editing. But this is a much more labor-intensive project than revising for clarity, and it may not be worth it, especially if it is a shorter document. Provided you have the time (and only you can be the judge of this), the better option is to start again. Even though it sounds like more work up front, it may actually take you less time in the end to write a new draft. The reason for this is that when you reboot, you encourage a host of new ideas and perspectives to be a part of your thinking, thoughts that were blocked because of your preoccupation with your old draft. As a result, words often come very quickly.

Plus, you never really throw away your work when you take this route (I always save old drafts just so I can see the changes I made). You are building on previous observations, connections, and arguments. Writing is seldom a linear process.

If you really get stuck with your writing, or if you feel like what you have is not getting you where you want to go, don’t be afraid to wipe the slate clean and start again. It may not be the most convenient way to proceed, but remember: the goal here is to produce your best writing. Nobody said this was easy!

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