Edit As You Go Verses Write-then-Edit.

by karen Payton Holt (AKA KPHVampireWriter)

Similar to the ‘planner’ verses ‘pantser’ divide on plotting a story, editing styles, too, differ greatly. And, as in all things, there are the extremes. Is there a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to edit?

One school of thought dictates that once you begin writing, be it a short story or a novel, you should power through to the end of without revisiting sections or editing.

I think this is easier to do in the case of short stories… after all, you penned the beginning somewhere within that span when your memory is still capable of nurturing the details.

In novel writing this is far more difficult, although, preparation and planning can help that process. So, there we have that element, once more; it is easier for ‘planners’ to power through to the end without looking back too far, and to leave the editing lie.

I would argue it is almost impossible for pantsers. Why? Because, when I wrote my first two novels without planning them, I needed a run up of the last 1,000 words written to get me back into the mood/vibe of the story. That meant re-reading those ‘clunky sentences’ where syntax had gone adrift, re-reading the overblown enthusiasm for adverbs because on that day I was feeling exuberant! (Exclamation points are a no-no too!)  and not touching them.

I found that nigh on impossible, I don’t mind saying. Some writers create a skeleton and add the flesh in each subsequent sweep, and some propagate a forest of words which needs drastic pruning to allow the story room to breathe.

The gathering of opinions of other writers highlighted a few key issues;

Being unable to ‘leave the editing alone’ can lead to the writer never finishing the book. I would best describe that as ‘editing fatigue’.

Editing is akin to running a marathon. At the start you are enthusiastic and fresh, or resigned and determined on bad days. You begin the process, your enthusiasm wanes and you stop.

So what happens if, regardless of the fact that the course is not yet there to be run, you keep setting out on the marathon, and editing those early chapters?

Editing is time consuming, and it is also a perfect disguise for procrastination. Indulge the imposter too long and your creative writing pace will falter, and may even stop.

It is human nature to ‘tinker’ with things, and novels are no different in that.

In my view the truth is this — and I have yet to follow these words of wisdom myself — you should not edit until your first draft is complete. Take that small run up to recommence writing on a new day, and correct a howling typo if you must, but STOP EDITING, just push on through to the end. It’s okay for this first draft to be truly terrible!

Printing out an early draft so you can make notes on continuity issues can help too. At the end on the day, flicking back through ‘real pages’ when a thought strikes is often simpler that ‘scrolling’ a document.

The second draft is your opportunity to add detail, and fill in where you may have jotted, ‘insert fight/love scene here’. This is the time to wrestle the story into shape, and then, having completed the writing marathon, you settle in for the slow walk through each sentence of a line edit.

Finally, reading aloud is a great tool in the editing box of tricks. Editing is a demon perched on the shoulder of every aspiring writer, and you can pay for editing services, but I feel that should be left to the ‘polishing of the jewel’ stage because at the end of the day, who knows better than you exactly what you are trying to say?

No matter how you do it, do it you must. Editing is the hot coals you walk over to achieve your dream.


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