Why It’s OK to Edit as You Go

One of the most common pieces of advice about writing I see is to “turn off your inner editor” and “write a first draft without worrying about whether it’s correct.” These can be useful maxims when taken abstractly, since worrying about producing a “perfect” draft can disrupt the creative process and keep you from even beginning. But it’s not always a wise idea to encourage yourself to write sloppily, either.

 

A massive edit can be daunting. First of all, if you get to the end of your draft and find that you have a messy, garbled manuscript, you may not ever gather the courage to dive back in and edit it. This goes beyond grammar, punctuation, and style errors—if you didn’t say something exactly right the first time, whether it’s a description, a line of dialogue, or a metaphor, you may never feel that click of recognition again, leaving you with unsatisfactory, uncompelling prose that you don’t feel a connection to and may even need to cut. Also keep in mind that if you’re hiring a professional editor, the sloppier your draft is, the more you’ll have to pay to get it cleaned up.

 

Improvement is a never-ending process. The most important reason to give yourself permission to edit your own work as you write is that you’ll be honing your skills, not just cleaning up. If you keep allowing yourself to make the same mistakes over and over, whether they’re simple typos, syntax problems, or flat, uninspired passages you’ll “come back to later,” they’ll become habits. In essence, you’ll be training yourself to get worse, not better. Stopping and correcting, tinkering, or rewriting once in a while ensures not only that you’ll train yourself to stop making those mistakes, but also that your prose—and your mind—will get sharper. Your work should be cohesive, your mind productive—and lazy writing won’t get you either.

 

Reviewing can open up new directions. Reviewing your work as you go doesn’t just improve it on the sentence level; it can also benefit the larger aspects of your manuscript. Taking the time to read over and evaluate what you’ve written before you’re finished may make its underlying themes click for you, or may inspire new ideas, whether for this draft, the next one, or another book entirely.

 

There are different methods of editing as you go. Keep in mind that you can edit as you go in a way that works for you. You don’t have to stop and correct every single typo as soon as you finish a sentence. Many writers prefer, and even find it incredibly helpful, to begin every writing session by going over what they wrote the day before. You may find a day or two’s distance is enough to give you fresh perspective on what you’ve written, yet not so much that you no longer know what you were trying to say. Other writers prefer to finish a chapter, perhaps submitting it to their writing group for review, and then edit it before moving on to the next. And there’s a bonus benefit to these methods: editing before producing new material is one of the easiest ways to slip back into the writing mode (without having to clear the hurdle of writer’s block).

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