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Why You Shouldn't Edit As You Write


typewriter. Why You Shouldn't edit as you write. illustration drawing by Katherine M Kennedy.

SKIP AHEAD:



I edited my first book while I wrote it. It got messy. Fast. I couldn't remember what I had changed and what I hadn't. I forgot characters' names because I kept changing them. I lost plot threads and had to go find them in the messiest folder in the history of computers—some are still lost, presumed dead. I deleted pages of writing that I had spent hours, nay, days editing for no damn reason because would you look at that? I just deleted it. What a waste of time. It's no wonder it took me three years to write the stupid thing. Then I changed my book's name (three times) and created new folders to create yet more naming convention chaos—I still don't have a firm title for my book, but I've stopped changing it on a whim, which I'm counting as character growth.


Sage wisdom tells writers to hold off on editing until the first draft is complete. Don't edit while you write to achieve 'flow'—Unbelievably, 'flow' is a scientific term, one that could have used an edit before it made it into the final copy. Flow is an uncritical, rapid-fire decision-making process that lets us write with, well, flow. Or because editing is another form of procrastination. Here are 9 drawbacks to editing while you write.



1. Editing, Just Another Way To Procrastinate


It's really hard to finish your first draft, and editing can be a massively distracting force that sidelines your writing and prevents you from completing the book. And the most important thing is to finish your book.



2. It’s Harder to Keep Track of Plot Beats and Character Moments When You Are Editing as You Go


As the book gets longer, it can be confusing knowing what you have changed and what you haven't. I fell into this trap because I edited as I went along. And sometimes, I forgot that I had rewritten a chapter, changing character elements and plot beats. Important information got lost in the chaos of editing and writing, and I had to make a lot of corrections when I started my first edit on my draft.



3. Perfectionism Is Not Your Friend


Perfectionism is not your friend when you are writing a whopper of a book. There is a lot of writing to go, and getting stuck on perfecting one sentence (that might be deleted later) is working hard, not smart.



4. You Can Absolutely Get Sick Of Your Own Book


I got so sick of my book that I thought I would never be able to read another word of it. Because I edited so much. I wrote, read what I wrote, then edited. Wrote, read, edited, over and over again until the words lost all meaning. I couldn't tell what was good and what was bad anymore, but I knew I couldn't stomach reading a single word again. It was the closest I came to full-blown giving up, and that was primarily down to over-editing and reading the story too many times.



5. Once Your Book Is in Its First Draft, You’ll Have a Bird’s Eye View of the Story, Enabling Better Editing.


Before You finish your book, you don't have the broad, bird's eye view of your story needed for effective editing. Character arcs may change, they may develop a personality all of their own, and plot points might need to be moved or readjusted. Until you have everything down on pixel paper, you don't have the necessary knowledge to carry off a good edit.



6. Wasting Time On Writing That Might Not Make It Into The Final Draft


You might delete whole chapters later. This happened to me. It hurt. It hurt like an open wound. Not only did I delete my whole first chapter—the first chapter that I worked on for ages, that was edited within an inch of its life, I later deleted 8000 words and re-wrote them. Then I deleted what I re-wrote and re-wrote it again. Wasting time on editing something that might not make it to the end is, again, working hard, not smart.


7. Document Control Becomes A Massive Headache When You Edit As You Write


Document control is easy enough if you are writing your draft without any major edits. You can simply save over old versions with the new writing. One document equals fewer problems. When rewriting sections and changing previous writing, you'll want to keep a copy of the original and the newly edited version. Depending on how often you edit, this is a massive, ever-evolving headache. I frequently re-wrote sections, then—perhaps weeks later— I would decide that the old version was better. Finding the unedited version was infuriatingly difficult.


screenshot. bad document control. book
All the folders and documents I needed to manage my edits

The above screenshot eloquently explains the chaos I was dealing with. If I could go back in time and start my book all over again (which sounds like some kind of torture), I would implement a proper filing and naming convention system from the beginning. I would have saved myself a lot of grief.


And while I couldn't go back in time (thankfully), I did approach my next book differently. And look at that! Neat and tidy.

screenshot. document control. book

Naturally, waiting till I had a first draft to edit my book created all sorts of new and different problems, but that's another story.



8. Changes and Edits Ripple Backwards, Making Editing as You Go A Waste Of Time


Any significant changes will ripple backward through your book, potentially undoing any work you put into editing earlier chapters.



9. Edits Upon Edits Can Result In A Special Kind Of Chaos


Edits upon edits can make a big mess. A good example is when I changed the name of a house in my book. Unfortunately, I didn't change it once; I changed it five times. Because I went back and edited the whole manuscript each time, and search and replace has limited capability, I ended up with a confusing mess of house names. That's what happens when you let editing run wild WHEN THE BOOK ISN'T FINISHED YET.



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