Are You Editing While You Write?

Write-Edit

If you find it difficult to get your ideas onto paper quickly when you write, perhaps you’re editing while you do it.

When I started writing … way back in high school, when pterodactyls still flew … I thought my best stories developed when I simply sat down and wrote, as fast as I could put words down. I even sold one of those early efforts, which was one of the most exciting things to happen to me until I met my future wife.

The nervous practice of producing a sentence, and then going back immediately to edit it, began to happen as I got more serious about the craft.

The funny thing is, when I started doing that … the editing as I wrote thing … my writing got worse (I’ve long since deep-sixed every one of those stories).

It took me a couple of years to understand why editing-while-writing is so destructive and stop it, although … all these years later … I still slip-up from time-to-time (like my recent return to that unsightly area known as “writer’s block”).

The Creative Brain
The reason we do it relates to the way we’re built. We all have two-sided brains: a creative brain and a critical brain. I once read an author who advised thinking of them like siblings … ones that don’t get along very well.

The critical brain is diligent and well-organized but it’s not so great at writing. The creative brain has marvelous ideas, but it’s the less assertive of the two … prone to hiding under the bed whenever the critical brain looks as though it’s about to throw a punch.

Immediately editing your work puts the critical brain in charge … and your creative writing will suffer.

Perhaps you’ve done that, too? If so, I advise you to take a hard look at your own writing and break the instant-editing habit as quickly as possible.

Keep Your Critical Brain At Bay
One of the tricks that works for me: I write at a furious pace, slowed only by the bothersome “instant spell-check” function of my laptop.

Then at the end of every writing session I spend a moment (and I mean it, just a MOMENT), writing out directions about what I want to accomplish in the next part of the story. A few words will do … never more than a short sentence.

The next time I sit down to write, I start work from that thought, so I can’t be lured into editing my prior work before I finish writing the whole thing. That’s the plan anyway. As you know (because I told you), I sometimes forget to follow my own advice.

Monitor Your “Self-Talk”
If you’re like everyone else in the world (including me), while you’re writing you’re probably saying things like: “This is just too boring.” Admit it, we all do it.

Whether we actually speak the words out loud, we all talk to ourselves … usually in the negative. The trick is to be conscious of it and tell yourself, “I’m writing right now. I’ll deal with these concerns when I’m editing.” And then do exactly that.

If you’re not conscious of your own self-talk then please go looking for it over your next few writing days… and then promise yourself to learn to keep it quiet.

Write Yourself Notes
Like I mentioned in in the previous note, when I’m writing my first draft I frequently feel something isn’t quite right about the words I just put down.

However, instead of letting myself constantly stop and try to fix them (most of the time, anyway), I skip a space on the page and write REVISIT in all caps … and go on.

This sort of “promissory note” puts my critical brain at ease by acting as a promise that I won’t forget to address something I initially identified as a problem (and sometimes on revisiting the section when I edit, the problem is no longer there).

Reward Yourself
Reward yourself for not editing while you write. In time, the reward of writing quickly will be prize enough.

For now, however, lavish yourself with other incentives: magazines or books you enjoy, music, tea, coffee, lunch at your favorite bistro, a glass of your favorite wine … or maybe time with the loved ones you sometimes neglect while immersed in your fiction.

Now you might wonder “Who is this Herron character, anyway? Why should I listen to anything he has to say?”

My response is to say it isn’t just me saying it. If you search for it, you’ll find nearly every successful novelist and writer has similar admonitions about the craft. All I’m doing is passing them on.

Good Advice
Stephen King, one of my all-time favorite authors, has several quotes worth remembering in his phenomenal book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” If you’re an author and haven’t read it yet, I sincerely urge you to get a copy and read it before you continue your next story (don’t worry, it’s a serious work, with no evil clowns or rabid dogs).

    “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”

    “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

    “I believe the first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months. Any longer and — for me, at least — the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel, like a dispatch from the Romanian Department of Public Affairs, or something broadcast on high-band shortwave during a period of severe sunspot activity.”

    “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

Remember, to get your ideas out you should always write as quickly as possible. Let the ideas from your creative brain flow.

Just be sure to edit later, as slowly and carefully as you can.

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You can find my books on Amazon. You’re also invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or like my Facebook page. You can also follow my shorter ramblings on Twitter.

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2 Responses to “Are You Editing While You Write?”

  1. Ron Herron Says:

    That’s exactly why I recommend NOT doing that. It’s too hard to move forward (although I’m guilty of it myself all the time, as I just admitted).

    I’d much rather crank out 100,000 words and have to edit away fifteen or twenty percent of them to make something decent, than to spend weeks (months?) trying to get 75,000 absolutely perfect ones before I finish and head to edit.

    Ain’t gonna happen…I know myself too well.

    Never look back (except in edit)! Never surrender (ever)! Thanks for the comment, Michelle.

    Like

  2. Michelle Proulx Says:

    I think my biggest issue with going back to what I wrote the day before and editing it before I start writing is that I inevitably find something in the previous day’s work that I don’t like. This reminds me that I’m nowhere near perfect at writing, which lowers my confidence in my writing abilities, which makes the new day of writing that much harder. Never look back! Never surrender!

    Like

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