Editing While You Write: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

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As the old saying goes, there is a time to every purpose, and the writing process is no different. These is a time to write and a time to edit. A time to submit and a time to publish. Sounds pretty simple on paper, but in reality perhaps not so straightforward.

The urge to edit as we write is powerfully strong – especially when writing the first draft. And while it may seem harmless to stop the creative flow to go back to previous scenes and make a few changes to grammar or plot, you are in effect interrupting the writing process and hindering progress. The purpose of the first draft is to get the story on paper, not perfect it.

It is when you have a completed draft that you genuinely understand what you have to work with. At this point, your brain makes the mental switch from creative to critical thinking to evaluate work and begin editing.

Of course, with any habit, making a change is not always easy. Some writers believe they are making more work for themselves down the road if they do not edit as they write. Or fear they might forget to fix something later. And while these are valid concerns, backtracking to edit is exactly that – backtracking.

Use the following tips to help you stop editing while you write:

Be mindful that a first draft is not meant to be perfect

Train yourself to think of the goal at hand – completing a first draft, not the end result. Think of the first draft as a lump of clay to be molded into something magnificent during the editing process. But you can’t mold anything until you have that lump of clay in hand.

Document problems to be corrected during the editing process

Eliminate the “I need to fix it before I forget,” worry by keeping a running list of issues to address during the editing process after the draft is completed. Jot down problems quickly and return to writing.

Go forward with major changes

For changes that alter the direction of your story, continue writing as if the changes have been made. Document the changes and continue writing. DO NOT stop moving forward. Save changing previous writing for after you’ve finished drafting. If you stop each time you make a significant change, you’ll never finish the draft.

Write on the clock

Set a reasonable writing goal to meet in a given amount of time that focuses on quantity not quality, which is essential in the drafting stage. This makes it easier to push on and get your words down without editing because you simply don’t have time for anything else. Check out this 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better for tips on effective writing practices that boost productivity.

Reward yourself

Give yourself a small incentive for not editing while writing. Treats like ice cream, coffee, or even time away from the computer will go a long way to break the habit. The writing process is a marathon, not a sprint, and little rewards along the way help keep us motivated and on track!

Remember, focusing on getting a rough draft on paper quickly, is the most effective use of a writer’s time during the drafting phase. The editing process is where taking your time and being mindful matters. Separate these tasks to ensure you make it to the finish line!

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About Author

IDABEL ALLEN is the author of Headshots, Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign to Save the Chigg and Rooted: A Washed in the Blood Tale. When not burrowing in the written word, Idabel is generally up to no good with her family, dogs, and herd of antagonistic cows.

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