Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t edit while you write. Many writers have a hard time finishing their novels, so this advice is given to prevent distractions and procrastination. So, how do you balance writing and editing?
In On Writing, Stephen King tells us that editing is divine. Unlike most writers, I love editing because the refinements make the story come out. The most important thing will always remain getting the words on the page, but if they aren’t quality words, you’re just making more work for yourself later.
I edit while I write because sometimes changes to earlier chapters need to be made to allow for later events. My characters also surprise me and go off the path I set. If this happens, I make edits immediately while everything is fresh in my mind.
I don’t edit with a fine tooth comb while writing because then I’d never finish anything. But I don’t want to be left with an un-publish-able mess at the end because contrary to popular wisdom, not all first drafts are sh*t and not all first drafts can be salvaged. I aim to write solid drafts that just need some finesse during editing.
How to balance writing and editing
Think of your first draft as your foundation
You want it to be strong and not just random words on a page that don’t weave a story. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t meet your word count or obsess so much over a perfect first draft that you never finish it. It is saying that if you realize something needs to change, it’s better to pivot on page 10 than page 100 to avoid unnecessary work.
Fix what’s broken
Sometimes, you don’t notice problems until you’re editing from start to finish (or notice at all). For example, in Sweet Redemption, my beta readers pointed out that I didn’t have enough backstory on Trevor. I agreed, so I had to refine throughout the whole book and that took a long time. However, if I notice glaring problems or am bored writing something, which is a good indication readers will be bored reading it, I fix it right away.
Don’t worry about technical writing
In a first draft, agonizing over a semicolon (and please don’t use semicolons, adverbs or weasel words in your novel) is a waste of time. However, you do need the key story elements in place and to have everything make sense. Weaving disjointed chapters into a story is not what editing is for, it’s what a first draft is for. Be mindful as you go.
Find what works for you
Writing is subjective. One reader will love something about your book that another can’t stand. The process of writing is no different. You need to find what works for you and refine as you go. Some authors rewrite the first chapter 100 times and when it’s perfect, the rest of the story flows. Others write a chapter and then edit, ending with a solid draft. There is no wrong way to do it unless, of course, you don’t finish.
Keep characters fresh in your mind
Sometimes life happens and you aren’t able to hit a daily word count. If you have long periods in between writing sessions, you may need to go back and read some chapters to bring the characters to life in your head. You don’t want to be editing at the end only to realize there is no consistent characterization and the plot makes no sense. If you edit smart while you’re writing, then you’re refining your draft as you go and creating less work at the end.
Do you edit while you write?
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