Wednesday On Writing: Edit as You Go, or No?

Summer Sale!! During the month of July, all my books and stories will be on sale at SmashwordsThree, including the first two stories in my urban fantasy series, The Yo-Yo Files, are free. My short fantasy collection is half off, as is my latest sci-fi novel, Two’s Company. My first novel, Circle Unbroken, is at even more of a discount. Ebooks are available in many formats. The sale begins July 1 and ends July 31. I hope you find something that interests you, and please tell your friends.

This is a question that comes up a lot in writing circles. Do you edit your work as you go along, or wait until you finish a draft before revising? Or something in between?

As with most things writing related, there is no one perfect answer. Just like almost every other bit of writing advice, everyone is going to have a different opinion, based on what works for them. I’m going to try to run down a few pros and cons on both sides of the question.

Many authors are insistent that you shouldn’t do any sort of editing while you are actively writing, especially with a first draft. The reasons for this method are that stopping the flow of ideas to fix a sentence, or patch up a plot hole will make it harder to get back into the creative part of writing. These are the people who will sit down and pound out a first draft, word one to the end, without stopping or paying attention to mistakes, omissions, or gaps. Can’t think of a good name for your protagonist’s boyfriend? Call him What’s-His-Name for now and worry about it later. Oh, crap, I can never remember how to spell that word! Just do the best you can, and look it up when you’re editing. Need to get your character out of a locked room and you aren’t an expert lock pick? Make a note and research after.

The advantage here is that you don’t interrupt the flow of your main story line. For those writer this works for, that’s important because if they stop to fix something, they can lose crucial momentum and have a difficult time picking it back up. On the other hand, this method can leave you with a lot of little things to deal with or look up later.

Editing on the go lets you fix some of the minor issues that plague any story as they come up, and can leave you with a more polished, finished feeling draft at the end. The downside here is that stopping to fix each spelling error, sentence structure mistake, or plot issue slows down your writing time and can make finishing that draft take longer than it otherwise would. Of course, you do have to put the time in fixing stuff anyway, but done piecemeal can drag it out.

There are many authors on both sides of this question. I know of several fairly well known writers who take some time at the beginning of their writing day to read over and do some light editing on what they wrote the day before. I also know some who simply push through beginning to end without stopping to edit in process. 

My opinion? Well, in practice, I am mostly a push through without stopping writer. However, if I know there was a spelling error in that last paragraph, that’s something that will bug me and pester at my brain endlessly. And that itself can derail the writing, so I often will go back and fix it. At the same time, I have done my share of characters named The Bad Guy or That Chick on the Bus until I have time to sit down and find the right name. My early drafts are also filled with highlighted or red text saying Research X For This Scene, or something similar. That is usually enough to calm my brain down about whatever the issue is and let me get on with the story.

It’s not a question with a simple, right answer for everyone. A lot depends on how your own brain works when you are writing, and what best helps you to get the story on the page. And that is something you have to discover for yourself. 

2 thoughts on “Wednesday On Writing: Edit as You Go, or No?

  1. I have tried all sorts of ways of going about writing that first draft, but have now settled on writing from word one to the end without stopping. I so envy the people who can read through what they wrote the day before, do some light editing and then push on, but I just can’t do it, I get too caught up in editing and then loose the momentum. Oh well, as long as we get there in the end!


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