Why Writing and Editing Should Be Separate Processes

There’s a reason the graphite and the eraser are on opposite ends of your pencil. You’re not supposed to use both at once.

MY NaNoWriMo PITFALL

Looking ahead to the NaNoWriMo challenge next month (how is it October already?), I’m thinking about some possible pitfalls that might prevent me completing my 50,000 word goal, and if anything writing-related interferes, it will definitely be that tendency I have to edit as I write.

Every writer knows it’s bad. Every writer strives not to do it, and still, I think, every writer does edit during first draft composition, to a greater or lesser degree. I have been striving to get better about this, and I’m hoping one of the positive effects of NaNoWriMo will be a great motivation to curb this bad habit even further.

LIKE BAKING A CAKE

Intellectually, I get that writing and editing are different processes, and that they work better when they aren’t jammed together and attempted simultaneously. I tell myself it’s like baking and decorating a cake. You can’t ice, and sprinkle, and layer, and shape your bakery masterpiece before you cook it; you have to cook it first. You have to have your raw material in a state where it’s ready to be worked and perfected before you can attempt the dazzle and polish. Writing’s the same thing. You have to bake your cake, write your draft, before you can ice it, or edit.

It’s got to be healthy right? Look at the fruit. There’s FRUIT!

Unfortunately, knowing something on factual level and practicing it are two very different things. It is HARD to let a passage you know could be better, much better, sit on the page while you move on to the next scene. It’s SOOO tempting to go back and sharpen it up right away! This tactic, though, I’ve learned is counterproductive on many levels…. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a bad habit. At the worst, it would be a neutral point of preference to debate. This is why I consider editing as I write to be one writing’s deadly sins.

  1. SLOW PROGRESS DISCOURAGES YOU. Just look at NaNoWriMo…. it’s all about word count, getting those 50,000 words. As writers, we work on some level with the quantifiable: numbers of words, chapters, titles to our name. When those numbers don’t grow at the pace we’d like and the pace they should, it’s discouraging. It’s really frustrating, and it causes a lot of doubt. Well, saving editing for the editing phase allows your word count to multiply at a rate that doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out!
  2. YOU END UP RE-EDITING WHAT YOU EDITED ALREADY. After a first draft, I always end up cutting lots of things, moving things around, changing certain details…. Everyone does. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. Well, this essentially means that all that editing you did while you were writing is essentially wasted time, because you’ll end up going back and altering those first edits again anyway. Imagine a scene you spent forty minutes perfecting during first draft time after you wrote it, only to end up cutting it after your read-through! Time is the one thing we never have enough of, so I try not to waste it. Of course, I end up wasting large amounts of it on a daily basis anyway, which is all the more reason I try not to waste it on pre-editing edits.
  3. DON’T BREAK YOUR MOMENTUM. Stopping to edit while you write cuts off your writing momentum cold. That’s never good when it’s avoidable. This isn’t necessarily the case for everyone, I’m sure, but I find it really difficult for me to build up that momentum to begin with. I’ve always just written without too much knowledge of where things were going and let inspiration take over, so stopping to edit, in my case, can prove a fatal mistake for my WIP.
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25 responses to “Why Writing and Editing Should Be Separate Processes

  1. DON’T BREAK YOUR MOMENTUM

    Thats the most important reason for me. Its the reason why I seperated the two processes.

    I get so much more done, just free-writing the story.

    Besides, you are going to edit the story through some two or three more times anyway. So you might as well spend as much time, on the first draft, just writing it.

  2. True, that’s why you should try and write every day so you get the same flow going 🙂

  3. I always edit during NaNo. But I wait until I’m finished writing for the day. Reading through each day’s work and making some corrections actually helps me with the next day’s forward motion. Plus, I wind up with a much cleaner first draft, which means the eventual editing is a lot easier.

  4. Love this post. I am SO bad about editing as I write. I know I’m not supposed to, but I just can’t help myself. I’m going to try really hard not to edit as I write during NaNoWriMo this year.

  5. Success likes speed. It’s better to pour all your energy into creating something in a flat-out rush, and then go back over it to finesse, smooth, pet, love. You’ll kill a lot of darlings. You’ll drink and be merry. You’ll have better writing, because you didn’t spend agonizing hours going over it with a fine-toothed brain.

  6. Like the cake – I know I shouldn’t but it’s so hard not to. I am a shocking edit as I go kind of girl. I can’t do full blown NaNo this year, but someone suggested I write every day in the spirit of NaNo. Perhaps I should go cold turkey and try not to edit either!

  7. Very good point! I do this all the time and it is exactly what you said. I once spent days revising what I had written and kept going over and over it. Then the story went an entirely different way and I had to scrap it anyway! That is frustrating and extremely time consuming. Thanks for the tip. I am just now embarking upon my debut novel. I am doing the research now and know that I should start writing, but I am still trying to get the characters fleshed out and I am really not sure where to start. 🙂

    • In my experience/opinion, if you’re starting out with the characters you’re in the right place! Just make sure you have a concrete situation for them to respond to, and let them do their thing!

  8. Writing and editing at the same time are my biggest vices. I guess because I am such a perfectionist that I can’t get past a paragraph unless I am satisfied with it. I’m trying to just write as I get going on my second novel, but my perfectionism keeps me from doing that.

  9. In my experience the single most important thing about the first draft is the mommentum. Once the Creativity Ball gets rolling it word count accelerates and scenes unfold. That’s why writers need follow Mis. Grefer’s advice on this one.

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  13. Which is why my first drafts are always done the ol’ fashioned way: pen to paper. Makes editing on the fly much more challenging.

    Great article.
    Thanks, Victoria
    ~ Kurt

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  17. Definitely a bad habit I need to break! LOL

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