Edit while writing or after?

I met a writer ages ago who described his writing process as planting seeds in the morning, and then weeding in the afternoon to see if he had any tomatoes (He was also an avid gardener!). His statement about his work method stuck with me. Write in the morning, edit in the afternoon. I figured that was how it was done.

Edit while writing

A lovely word garden!

Jump ahead a decade or so when now I’m a writer, and currently writing what will be my eighth published novel when it is released. Unlike my initial introduction, I don’t edit while writing. Instead I very much agree with the wisdom of many that to edit while writing the piece is a death knell for the project. It would be too easy to get lost tweaking chapters instead of carrying the story forward – and then realizing all that earlier work didn’t make sense to where the novel ended. So you’d have to rewrite and edit again! This is a treadmill which ensures the novel is never actually finished. Not the best strategy.

Then again…

Edit while writing

I’m going to adopt these!

I’m the midst of writing the crises of my current WIP. Up until now, the story has burst with ideas and building tension. The writing part has been easy. But as sometimes happens, between a near three week hiatus due to a vacation and then family time over the holidays, writing has slowed. Worse, my engagement with what I’m writing has stalled. When I wrote the chapter that is the very last build up to the crises… it felt flat.

What occurs in the novel is plotted out. This isn’t an issue of lack of ideas, simply lack of killer words and a fast pace to describe what is happening. Instead of releasing the tension created in the first ⅔ of the novel, the pace is still slow and building.

I finished the chapter very displeased with it and looked at the next one, the one that was the whole point of everything prior in the novel. And I felt totally unprepared to write it.

Usually I’d just ignore that displeasure and leap ahead. Fixing flat chapters is what editing is for. My first edit is to fix plot holes and spruce up those chapters that don’t have a spark. But jumping into the main action while feeling like the set-up for it is all wrong just didn’t work.

So I went back and fixed it.

It didn’t take much and was actually rather enjoyable to see something I was so unhappy with shape up into the breaking point I was looking for. After that, I felt ready to tackle the denouement!

Edit while writing

Well this method would ensure at least some separation between writing and editing…

I usually keep what I’m editing and what I’m writing as two separate novels. I do edit and write at the same time in that regard, just not on the same book for fear of creating a cycle that is difficult to escape. But this experience shows that sometimes there is a place for editing the story you are writing. Sometimes not being happy with the outcome of a chapter can affect the setup and the tone of the next. Or if the plot isn’t meshing the way envisioned, fixing it before going farther in text, and in plot direction, could solve a lot of editing problems later.

I don’t think, actually I’m hoping, that this isn’t going to become a regular ‘writing’ method for me. I like completing a book and then beginning my 5 step editing process. But this is another tool that helps keep a work progressing. After all, if I hadn’t fixed the problems, I wouldn’t have been as enthusiastic to write those big scenes.

Do you edit while writing or after?

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Written by: Autumn

Autumn (also known as Weifarer) is an indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently on the road in North America in a Four Wheel Camper along with her husband, Adam, and Cairn terrier, Ayashe.

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5 Comments

  1. jackstr952

    I revise after I write, although sometimes that evil guy on my shoulder pulls at me to change words or sentences while writing. Sometimes I give in, but usually it doesn’t take a lot of time. Revision is by far the most enjoyable phase for me because using techniques and processes I learned over the years allows me to see what I believe are huge improvements to the story.

    • Weifarer

      Oh I agree! I’ve actually come to love editing. One – I get to read a story! And two – I love seeing something go from okay to become a really great whole as far as story, plotting, wording, and such. Finishing a first draft is awesome, but I get a bigger kick out of finishing round 2 or 3 of edits. 🙂

      • jackstr952

        Exactly my feeling!

  2. Kelly Martin

    I’m not a multi-tasker who edits and writes simultaneously. That being said, depending upon the work, I generally write, read, write, read, edit, modify, write, read, review, modify, write, (etc.) chapter by chapter as I work on a novel.

    I usually keep a rolling five chapter write, read, review, modify wave going as I progress through a work. Then as I get ten or more chapter sections done, I’ll go back to the beginning for a complete read and tweak to the last written chapter until I progress entirely through the “first” draft. Then I go back and give the whole thing a solid two to three read throughs looking for flow, final editing and at least two proofing specific reads looking for grammatical, spelling, and linguistic structure/clarity problems.

    On average I’ve read/reviewed my novels likely 20 to 30 times piecemeal through before I have a “print” ready first edition with 5-6 straight read throughs on the “final” first draft. Then after publishing the first edition I find all the little problems in proofing which successfully evaded my detection. Welcome to the revised second editions, hehe.

    • Weifarer

      My hat off to you for such an intense editong/writing sequence! And I know what you mean about finding the little things missed. I’m always surprised at what my edito or other readers find after I think something is ready. Lol!

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