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.
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.
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!
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?