Should You Edit While You Write?

You finally sit yourself down to write. Then after a tough few minutes, you actually manage to get a solid sentence down. Then, you reread the sentence, decide it’s trash, and delete it.

Sound familiar?

Meme on deleting sentences

Maybe you don’t go back to edit until you finish the paragraph, or the page, or even the chapter, but the point is you can’t continue with the story until you’ve fixed what you’ve already written.

I know what you’re thinking. If you edit while you write by the time you’re done you’ll have a finished product. 

You’re wrong. Very wrong!

You should never make any major edits until you’ve completed your draft and I’m going to tell you why.

If You Edit You Will Never Finish 

That’s right, as long as you are editing as you go along you will never finish your first draft. Believe me, I know.

There was a time when I was convinced that the best draft was the draft you only had to write once. My thought was if I could edit as I went once I finished the draft I could go right to publishing.

If it worked the time an effort I would save would be incredible.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s simply not possible for you to finish a draft if you’re editing while you write.

Now I’m sure there are some unique people out there who can do it no problem, but I’m not one of them and neither are you. If you were one of them you wouldn’t have clicked on this article. You don’t look up writing advice when everything with your work in progress is going perfectly.

If you’re reading this you probably already know the excruciating process of editing while you write, but if you don’t know I’ll tell you what happened to me. 

One of the issues with editing, while you write, is you will end up spending way too much time rewriting the same sentence only to delete it any way. I felt the urge to tweak every little sentence until it was perfect.

The problem with editing, while you write, is nothing will ever seem good enough. I found myself rewriting the same scenes over and over again, and while they may have improved slightly each time this process was a death sentence to my draft.

If you are editing your first few pages right after you wrote them it is easier to convince yourself they are not good enough. This can lead you to abandon them and start over like I made a habit of doing.

In my google docs account, I have over one hundred documents from the past two years with slight variations of the first few chapters of my book. In all these documents I never even made it to chapter four, because I was too focused on editing it to perfection.

Don’t believe me?

Google docs grave yard.

I know, it’s bad. This is only a fraction of my abandoned drafts too.

There were times that I got so frustrated in my lack of perfection that I dropped works in progress entirely, only to do the same with other projects. The point is I couldn’t possibly finish because I was editing while I wrote.

Not only was I getting nothing done but I was losing focus for the entire project. I was so centered on making the introductory paragraphs perfect that I wasn’t even thinking about the middle.

I was also losing my confidence as a writer. When you edit you are forced to be harsh to your writing, and if you are doing it every time you write you begin to build a sense of doubt towards your own ability.

All the editing while writing made me hate my work. After I nearly quit because of it I came to a conclusion.

As long as I was focused on perfecting every word as I wrote it I was never gonna finish. Now that I knew this I made a change.

The Benefits of Plowing Through Your Draft

Now I know the words plowing through don’t bring the prettiest images to mind, but the idea isn’t to create a beautiful draft. The goal is to start a draft and finish it. 

When you are constantly editing your draft, you never seem to see any major progress. Once you stop editing and focus on getting words on the page your word count will skyrocket. 

Writing meme

That’s right, without editing you will write significantly more words.

When I started focusing on just putting words on the page I found myself writing more words per hour than I ever had before. The truth was, I was always writing a lot of words, but before I was deleting half of them. Now I was adding them up and making progress.

Was I making a lot of mistakes?

Yep.

The thing is, it didn’t matter that I was making mistakes because I was making progress. Sure my fourth chapter was awful, but I made it to the fifth and began to work on new scenes that I had never touched before.

As I progressed further and further into my novel I began to find some more benefits to writing without editing. I was able to see the project as a whole better than ever before.

It turned out the reason I was so stressed rewriting the first three chapters was because I didn’t yet know how they were supposed to connect to the rest of the novel. There was no way to know that because I hadn’t yet gotten to the rest. 

I had a whole new perspective.

For reference, in the two years, I wrote and edited at the same time I made absolutely no progress at all. In the one month, I tried to just get words on the page I wrote 50,000 words and finished my draft.

Sure it was awful but it sure felt good to finish. There is no better feeling than starting a project and going through with it. It gives you a great confidence boost moving forward.

On top of all of it, now that I plowed through the entire thing I have a much clearer idea in my head on where and how I need to edit. Forgetting about editing while writing is the best decision I ever made towards my WIP.

How To Stop Editing 

So you believe me when I say writing a draft without editing is a great idea, but you can’t stop. The only thing on your mind as you write chapter 3 is that awkward dialogue in chapter 1. 

It’s not such a big deal if I just tweak it a bit, right?

Writing and editing meme

Cut it out! If this tip is going to be effective you have to commit to it. 

It doesn’t matter if you spelled 3 things wrong in the previous sentence. It’s not like your draft will be published as soon as you type the final word.

That’s impractical, remember?

Your errors will still be there when you start the editing phase. You have to understand that. You can worry about fixing them when you reach the editing phase. While your writing your first draft the only thing you should be focused on is writing,

The way I like to think about it is while you’re writing you should constantly think about what happens next, not what was already written. Changing your mindset is key for this to work.

For me, the best way to get my mind off of writing perfect sentences is by challenging myself to write as many words per hour as possible.

By making a little challenge for myself it is easier to trick myself into not editing what I’d just written. 

This helps distract me from my urge to go back and change things.

The temptation to go back and tweak things will always be there. I urge you to fight those temptations. In a month when you have a completed draft you will thank yourself for listening!

Author: Patrick Nilan

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.

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