We’re often told to “turn off the inner editor” and just get the whole story down before going back and editing. To some of us, that advice seems counterintuitive and anxiety-provoking. Thank you to Julie Glover and to Writers in the Storm for this balanced article about self-editing.
Writing process is a topic of ongoing conversation among writers, whether just starting or multi-published. Plenty of books and articles have been written and workshops and webinars held to suggest this writing process or that one, claiming it’s The Way It’s Done.
While savvy writers out there reject the one-size-fits-all message, we still have certain presumptions that we mostly swallow. One of these can be summarized as…
Write First, Edit Later
There’s no end to the advice to simply turn off your inner editor and vomit words onto the page. Just get the story down!
Consider these quotes from some truly great authors:
“Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” ~ John Steinbeck
“Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular.” ~ Natalie Goldberg
“Simply refuse to look at anything you have written until the last page is done. Period.” ~ James Frey
“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” ~ James Thurber
“Write the first draft as if you’re out for a spontaneous night with a devastatingly handsome man you met abroad. Run wild, take chances, and don’t even consider the possibility that you’re making the wrong choice. Just go for it.” ~ Christine J. Schmidt
Obviously, this works for many, or even most, writers. Too often, we don’t know enough about our plot and characters, and the first draft is our opportunity to discover, explore, learn, and hone our story.
If that process works for you, embrace it.
But Is It True for Everyone?
W. Somerset Maugham presumably said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
We don’t all write the same, and a process that turns out one writer’s best work could be the death of another’s work. Let’s look at four reasons why editing as you go is a terrific idea for some authors.
1. Get the Foundation Solid
You may be writing along and reach a point in the novel where you feel unmotivated, stuck, or that something’s just off. Perhaps you can’t put your finger on it, but something isn’t working the way it should.
We talk about story structure because we understand that a novel needs a decent foundation to hold up well. That includes a plot without holes, a strong character arc, a compelling antagonist, and much more. But whether you plotted or pantsed this far, you might have a kink in your structure and continuing to write scenes would be like adding more stories onto a tilted house.
Going back and fixing the problem, or editing as you go, could keep your story from needing a total renovation later.