Do You Edit as You Write?


Some days I’m more editor than writer and some days I’m more writer than editor. The worse days are when I’m all editor and not a writer at all. But the question of editing while writing is one of those difficult problems.


I look at the following words of John Steinbeck:


Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”


They seem to make perfect sense. I know far too well the “I’m editing to avoid writing” game. I play it well. Steinbeck is right. Some works need to be written all the way through before taking another look at the errors and overall flow. And of course there is no point in stopping momentum for the sake of a few errant commas and the wrong “their”. Yet still, I am incredibly fearful of advice that tells me to never or always do something.


Sometimes there needs to be another approach. That’s when I remember the words of E.B. White:


The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.


Stories aren’t always clear, and when they’re blurry to you as a writer and to your characters, there might be a problem. There are just times when a draft is so flawed that it needs to be edited in between to prevent yourself from making massive deletes later. Sometimes those make it work moments hurt your stories more than they help.


If your story starts to go off point at page 10, cutting 2000 words would be a lot less painful than cutting 20 pages. I have had to do both and neither felt good, but editing and rewriting as I worked saved me a lot of time and hurt feelings in the end. The delete button is a cruel mistress.


It’s a difficult choice to decide whether or not to edit while writing. There are plenty of arguments for and against it, and I don’t know what works for you. The only thing I know for sure is you can never edit a blank page.  That’s one absolute I believe in.

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