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Pros and cons to the “edit as you go” mentality.

When I write, especially when I’m working on creative pieces like short stories and novels, I have this habit of editing as I go. This is one of those things you’ll hear a lot of other writers say you should never, ever do, as, they claim, you’ll never finish a book that way.

Since I’ve finished four books that way (and one of them I’ve rewritten four times), I’m going to say that they’re lying and it’s absolutely possible to edit as you write and finish your novel. I even did this when I was doing National Novel Writing Month last year, and not only did I manage to hit the 50,000 word mark, I managed to finish the book entirely at over 80,000 words.

(We’ll ignore the fact that I realized toward the end that I had been following the wrong character the whole time and I’ll need to redo the whole damned outline to address this mishap. I still FINISHED an 80,000 word novel in 30 days while editing along the way!)

There are some great benefits to editing while you write, but there are also some major drawbacks. Here are a few of them:

Pro: You tend to be happier about the quality.
One of the reasons I edit as I go is because I am a perfectionist and I want as near to a perfect draft as possible. Now, as writers, we all know that a “perfect first draft” is the unicorn of the creative world. It doesn’t happen. Period. But I like being able to look back at what I’ve written and not find it full of blaring typos, embarrassing misspellings, and awkward syntax. I like it to be pretty.

Con: Sometimes you get caught up ON the quality.
Unfortunately, this means I can get so caught up on making sure a chapter is perfect that I spend way too much time focusing on the quality of a draft that will, inevitably, be rewritten anyway. This is where that “if you edit as you go, you’ll never finish your book” mentality comes from. Honestly, a lot of writers don’t finish books because of this exact reason.

Pro: You stay refreshed and aware of what’s going on in your book.
My method of editing as I go essentially means to write a chapter, then reread that chapter to edit it before I move onto the next. Doing this helps me not only feel better about the quality of the writing (see the previous “pro”), but it also helps remind me of what was going on in the last scene. This makes transitions easier, and it also helps solidify things that will come up again in later chapters for continuity’s sake.

Con: You take twice (maybe three times) as long to finish any one scene.
Writers who don’t edit as they go tend to finish their novels way more quickly than those of us who get caught up in editing each chapter or scene as we finish it. If you’re looking to finish by a tight deadline (say, National Novel Writing Month), it’s probably not the best idea to be editing as you’re working (but if you do, I totally get it, because I did it, too).

Pro: You sharpen your writing more quickly as you work.
I’ve mentioned before that the best way to become a better writer is to write more often. Especially for beginning writers, your writing quality improves vastly while you’re working on a longer piece. If you’re editing as you go, you’re learning what you like and don’t like in real time, and you’ll be able to improve more quickly! Woo!

Con: Your writing quality can drastically differ from the beginning to the end of your novel.
However, improving more quickly means you’ll most likely see a big difference in writing quality between chapters one and thirty-one. Again, especially beginning writers see a big difference in their writing quality from the beginning to the end of their first book, and if they’re editing along the way, it’s probably even MORE drastic. (But that’s okay, because they’re going to rewrite the book at least once anyway, so a lot of that will get cleaned up!)

Anyone else out there an “edit as you go” writer? What do you love (and hate) about it?

Cheers,
–MC

Categories: Habits, Tips and Tricks, Writing

Discussion

  1. I’ve always been one to edit as I write! In fact, this is the first I’ve heard if it being a bad thing. Although the cons make sense, I’d still much rather take longer on quality writing than be done with crappy work sooner. A first draft will always need to be edited, but a better quality first draft means a better quality second draft.

    Sierra Dawn

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