Editing While You Write


Editing While You Write

There are some authors, like Alistair MacLeod, author of No Great Mischief, who are well-known for editing their work in progress–they have a penchant to pause over each word, looking for the perfect one.

Some writers also are in the habit of stopping during a writing session to evaluate the quality of their writing.  But by and large, I don’t think it’s a good idea. If stopping to edit resulted in “Hey, what a lovely turn of phrase,” I would withdraw the objection. But more often, it degrades into a negative judgement fest. More typical thoughts are “This is junk or “I can’t do this” or “It’s a stupid idea.” Or any other phrases which portray the work as flat, stale, and unprofitable.

In addition, if you edit during the creation phase, you may make premature judgments. Half way in, you may convince yourself that a particular character doesn’t work, can never work, and has no right in the novel. But if you continue including the character, you may find that there is a crucial role for him which only reveals itself as the story roles out.

Frankly, I think this is all a manifestation of writer’s block, so I would avoid giving the pernicious phenomenon a chance to infect you.

Isn’t editing a good thing?

Absolutely. It is the time to catch obvious mistakes of place or season but also a chance to decide whether the whole thing hangs together and whether your characters are as compelling as you want them to be.

But you do it once you’ve finished what you have to say. At least the first draft. Then, you can go to town on editing and even should.

How to avoid self-editing while writing

It can be a hard habit to get out of but I encourage you to try. Instead, just keep writing even if you are morally certain that the scene isn’t going anywhere. Take the scene to its logical conclusion before you wash your hands of it.

I know this feels as if you are pushing a rock up a hill, but often I have found that how you feel about the writing as you are writing has little relationship to its quality or usefulness. A piece you are convinced isn’t worth keeping, may be considered by others as a great, or at least a good, piece. I know you don’t believe me, but honestly, it often works out that way.

Unfortunately, the converse can be true. You think the piece you wrote is Booker Prize material only to get a lukewarm reaction. Just goes to show you that you are not good judge of you own writing in the heat of the moment.

It may seem to make sense to edit as you go, but this is your efficiency side talking. I hope you let your creative side take you where it will rather than stopping to judge a work in progress.