The mantra for every writer in the first or early drafting stages should be, “I’ll fix it later.” It can be a challenge to keep that in mind, but it’s SO important. If you try to fix your writing as you write, you’re ultimately getting in your own way. It’s hard to edit a book in progress because you don’t really know what you have yet. You won’t know until you finish your draft. Every time you stop writing to edit, you’re putting yourself farther from the finish line.
For the purposes of this post, I’m considering “editing” to mean both fixing language/grammar/sentence structure and more substantial plot changes. Basically, anything that you might stop writing to fix.
Here are five tips to help you stop editing while you write:
1) Make a list of problems
This is something I rely heavily on. In the past, one of my biggest excuses to stop writing and edit was, “I need to fix it before I forget.” But every time I went back to fix something it kept me from moving forward. Instead, I keep a running list of problems so I know what I need to check in on later. I keep bigger, overarching issues in a page on my notebook and more scene or chapter specific issues in the notes section in Scrivener. (If you’re in Word, the comments feature can also help with this.) This way I only stop long enough to jot down some notes, then I get right back to my word count.
2) For big changes, pretend you already made them and keep writing
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re moving through your books, hitting your word count, then out of the blue, you have a revelation about your project. And it’s a MAJOR revelation. One that completely changes the direction of your story. Since this revelation is so big, it would be easy to think you need to stop writing, go back, and put the changes in before continuing. But you don’t. You need to keep moving forward. Like the point above, all you have to do is take a time out and make notes about the changes you want to make. Then you keep writing as if you’ve already made them. Save changing previous writing for after you’ve finished drafting. If you don’t, it can become a domino effect. Once you make one big change, it won’t be long until you start making others. Keep your eyes on the prize and get to the old stuff later!
3) Remind yourself that it’s supposed to be bad
It’s amazing what changing your way of thinking can do for your writing. I think one reason a lot of writers have a hard time not editing is that we get too focused on the end result. When a book’s in its early stages, it is at its worst, so it can be easy to get hung up on how bad it is. One idea that really helps me manage this is to remember that it’s supposed to be bad right now. It’s not called the writing “process” just because it sounds good. It’s actually a process. Your work needs to be bad before it can be good. So, if you’re in your first or second draft and your book is a hot mess/bad/the-worst-thing-ever-written, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’re doing a good job!! Try to remember that!
Once I got used to the idea that in early drafting bad writing=a good job, it became a lot easier to accept and move forward. For more tips on this subject area, I have a whole post on embracing imperfection in your writing.
4) Write each day’s work in a separate document
Or, you can do each chapter/scene if you’d think that’d be best. The ultimate goal here is to put less of your work on your screen at once. There are two ways this can help.
First, sometimes it can be easier to fall into editing when you get stuck drafting. And then you might think, “Well, let me go fix some of the old stuff, so at least I’m doing something.” And the next thing you know, you’re editing everything and not moving your project forward. (Or maybe this is just me?) As much as this may feel like progress, it’s not. At least, not at this stage. It’s actually keeping you from finishing your book, which is a problem.
Second, it can also be hard to move on when you feel like what you’ve written so far could be so much better. And if you’re having a hard time with Tip #3, simply taking the work off your screen might be the way to go. The less previously written work you have access to, the harder it will be to edit.
5) Write on the clock
I did a micro post a couple of weeks ago that touched on the benefits of writing on the clock and how I use this technique. The idea is you set a reasonable writing goal to meet in a given amount of time. As a mentioned in that post, one reason why I love this approach is that it focuses on quantity, not quality, which is important in the drafting stage. It makes it easier to push on and get your words down without editing because you simply don’t have time for anything else.
As always, I hope this helps! If you’re looking for more tips like this, you might want to check out this post: 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.
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Now it’s your turn: Have you caught yourself editing when you’re supposed to be writing? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!