Wisdomous Wednesday: Don’t Edit While Writing
Wisdomous Wednesday is a weekly series of posts with advice about writing ranging from craft to navigation through the publishing world. If you have some wisdomous thoughts you’d like to share here, don’t hesitate to contact me. I love advice from other writers!
Today’s tip is for writers who have a tendency to get “stuck” while writing first drafts. I speak from experience–I often get bogged down somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 words into the manuscript. The manuscript seems sludgy, and no matter how I tweak it, scenes aren’t flowing the way they should. More often than not I used to psych myself out of the manuscript entirely, abandoning it for a new idea.
And that’s no way to end up with a finished book! So this advice is for people who have trouble getting to “The End” on that first draft.
Resist the Urge to Edit As You Go!
Many writers, when sitting down to resume a work in progress, will read the last several pages (or chapters) of their manuscript to get back into the swing of things. On the one hand, this can be a great way to recapture the mood of your last session, get excited about the scene you’re about to write, and remind yourself of why you’re taking time out of your day to work on this project. On the other, though, it can also be a trap!
When I reread I can’t help but edit. I see sentences where I’m like “OH GOD WHAT WAS I THINKING” and then I have to rewrite them because I physically cannot leave them the way they were. But then I have to rewrite the next sentence, too, because my previous change made inconsistencies. Then I have to rewrite the whole scene to make my two shiny new sentences work. Then I realize that actually I need to rewrite the whole chapter, and it’s at that point that I realize the entire book is hopeless because I basically need to redo all of it.
Then I take a baseball bat to my computer and go watch TV.
As my long-suffering critique partner is so fond of telling me, you can’t edit a blank page. If you spend all your time reworking what you’ve already written, you’ll never get the book finished. And you see things so much more clearly when you’ve got a complete first draft to work with. Rather than get wrapped up in the minutiae of line-editing as you go, try just getting the words down and forgetting about them, always moving on. Allow yourself to read back only a page when you first sit down to work, so you remember where you were. If you need to reread your manuscript, set time aside from your writing time to read it, as you would read a book. If you see big picture things you need to change, write them down in a file somewhere and save it for when you’ve finished, and want to start draft two.
Plenty of writers edit as they go, and do brilliant work. This is just one of those things you can try if you’re finding yourself bogged down, or losing interest halfway through a manuscript, or just finding it impossible to get through to the end. But as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it!
(Yeah, I just got done watching a megaton of Star Trek: Next Generation. Which made me segue into watching Reading Rainbow for the nostalgia. Yes, I’m a geek. Is anybody shocked by this? Anyone? Bueller?)