Paradoxical tip for revising a manuscript with which you are dissatisfied.


Revisiting my written work is sometimes painful but usually valuable. This is particularly true when I am dissatisfied with what I produced but can’t figure out how to change it. Ever been there?

I’m quite dyslexic, and I often don’t see things looking at what I have written on the screen. So I write early in the morning on my PC, save it in Dropbox. I then download it to my iPad and take it to a comfortable nearby café with excellent cappuccino. I have a fine espresso machine at home, but I make a point of not learning how to make cappuccino so that I am forced to go the café.

I know that people can edit manuscripts on iPads but I refuse to learn that also. I think it’s a very important part of my creative process to take what I read into another environment and confront it without the opportunity to change it. I have routinized the struggle and actually look forward to it.

Paradoxical writing tip: Sometimes it is easier to identify and correct what is wrong with your writing if you are freed from the responsibility from having immediately to respond to it. I’m sure someone could provide a cognitive behavioral analysis of this proposition.

Evidence-based Skeptic’s Challenge: this may not work for you. There is no randomized trial of which I am aware. But conduct a N = 1 trial and decide for yourself. I don’t think you are required to be dyslexic for this strategy to work, but who knows whether it works at all.

Try an ABABA design, alternating (A) simply sitting at your PC and struggling with this  versus (B) condition. Make sure you pick a café with good cappuccino. It will at least be a consolation.

But maybe just be pragmatic and wait until you’re stuck at your PC and then try this. Maybe this would not be a good experimental design, but so what, necessity is the mother…

I’d  be interested in anybody’s experience trying this technique.

Note: I was the youngest member of the Palo Alto, MRI (Mental Research Institute) Brief Therapy Center for six years and received live supervision from Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch. I abandoned doing workshops when I was not confident that it was a format in which I could communicate strategies to people who were sensitive to context and willing to make observations whether they worked. And I didn’t have time or resources to develop evidence that what we did worked. I did publish a radical behavioral analysis of a strategic family case in Journal of Behavioural Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry with Tony Biglan. I also presented workshops to some people who went on to develop Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and become ACT gurus. I see many of our MRI strategic interventions incorporated into ACT, but I’m not convinced its promoters have done a good job of developing an evidence base for its sometimes extravagant claims.