Write, Don’t Edit


WYSIWYG text editors are possibly one of the finest innovations that has hit the world of writing.  Look, I never had to generate a manuscript on a typewriter, I don’t know what it was like, but the ability to go in and shift a sentence around, insert a paragraph, change a character’s name, all without having to completely retype a manuscript?  Brilliant.  Can’t imagine living without it.  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

The problem?  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

There are two directions I could take this.  I could look at the need to push forward, or I could look at the need to edit more deliberately at times.  This is the former.  The latter is on Unleaded.

For me, editing has always been a siren song.  Back in college whenever I was working on a piece of long fiction, I’d start by editing what was already there, and then adding on new material at the end.  The problem with this?  Well, there’s a joke I love.  Guy gets a job painting the stripes down the middle of highways, because that’s the kind of job people get in jokes.  So he goes out the first day and he paints five miles of stripes.  His boss is thrilled, that’s more than anyone has painted in a day before.  Next day?  He just paints two miles.  Well fine, perhaps he exhausted himself over performing the day before, and that’s still well above the average for two days.  Third day?  Not even a quarter of a mile.  Boss calls him into the office, asks what’s wrong, why is his production slipping off so much.

“Well,” he says, “I kept getting farther from the bucket.”

And there was the problem.  I was leaving my bucket at the beginning of the story every time, and going back before I ever went forward.  So the part I was editing got longer and longer, and the amount of energy I had left when I got to the end was less and less.  This killed many an early novel attempt of mine.

What got me out of this funk?  Nanowrimo.  It’s a large part of why I recommend people try the one month novel challenge, because it forces you to move ever forward, not stop and doubt yourself, and certainly not give into the temptation of going back to make just one change.  Now, I’m not going to say this is the best and healthiest way to write any novel.  There’s always going to be some editing that happens as you go, but the trick is to get out of the mindset that everything preceding has to be perfect before forging ahead.  In the days of typewriters, the only direction available was forward.  Stick in the next sheet of paper, write the next scene, because editing wasn’t a simple process of find-and-replace, or highlight-and-delete, it was a more literal process of rewriting.

And this is where my mantra of Writers Write perhaps comes out the strongest.  You’re writing a story, you’re not fiddling with it, pursuing it, editing it, nitpicking it, wandering around it, or any other verb, you are writing it.  So get to it and actually write it.  Then, when you’re done?  That’s the time to go back and really start the editing.

, , , , ,

  1. avatar

    #1 by Deri Ross on June 23, 2011 - 5:08 pm

    Excellent advice. I try to do this, then I forget and get bogged down with editing as I go, even though I know better. It definitely breaks the flow of the story.

(will not be published)


%d bloggers like this: