Hello, I’m a perfectionist. I spent sixteen hours on this sentence. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but it’s true that when writing my novels I’ve spent months trying to perfect a sentence before moving on. Guess what? I didn’t budge an inch.
All I had were good paragraphs, which were so disconnected from each other they may as well have been from separate novels, and snippets that were only good for getting hearts on Twitter. If I’d carried on like that, I would have never finished my novel.
So here’s how to resist editing before you’ve finished your first draft, and how to resist editing immediately after you’ve finished.
Plot structure. Sentence structure. Good prose.
What even is that?
This was tough for me. My inner editor cringed as I ignored all the glaring problems in my messy draft. I wanted more and more to edit my work. I avoided reading writing tips and advice, ignored everything I knew about writing and got on with it.
This is all about giving yourself permission to write terribly. It wasn’t easy for me to ignore the writing rules, especially when the story began to slog and a ‘but if I just go back and fix this…’ mindset began to grow. I knew if I gave into that mindset, I wouldn’t finish the book.
Anyone following my twitter will know my struggles.
The goal is to reach the end. Sometimes that means getting the point across as quickly as possible, even if it’s clunky:
“Bob opened the door. Jimmy was on the other side. Jimmy shot Bob.”
While writing my science fiction WIP, I skipped over description, world-building, and technical details. This is because ideas were still coming to me. My first draft was a place to test concepts and leave myself questions I could develop later.
Any idea works even if it doesn’t. Have fun.
When you feel the urge to edit, save your work and shut down your computer. Walk away. Do anything else. It’s okay not to write.
Or, you can write something else. Something short and snappy that you can edit in a few minutes. I wrote a couple of short stories. It helped to take my inner editor for a walk and remind myself that poor prose can be fixed.
I know good writers are good readers, but I found that reading clean prose while I writing a messy first draft send my editor instincts into overdrive. Lay off the books, or at least separate your reading from your writing.
Whatever you want to change or whatever ideas you have, leave yourself a note and put it out of your mind. Word’s comment feature is excellent for this. If you’re stuck further down the line, these notes might help you keep going – but remember not to change anything you’ve written until the end of the draft.
Often, I wanted to edit because I was stalling on my draft. I thought that if I just went back and fixed things, I could continue on. When this happened, I went back and did a little character and world building. Questions I’d left myself were waiting to be answered. This was the point to do that.
You did it. You’ve finished your first draft. What now?
For me, this was taking a holiday and leaving my laptop behind. This worked out nicely for me because I had a deadline to work to. Try and find something else to occupy your time.
Short stories. New projects. Fanfiction. If writing is your passion, scribble something short and sweet. Maybe practise your line editing before you work on your larger novel. Remind yourself, that despite your messy first draft, you can do this and there is a reason you do this.
Even though you’ve written your draft, the struggle isn’t over. You can’t slip into bad habits and chop up your story – or worse, delete the whole thing. Writing can be tough, but its also fun. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Let yourself enjoy it.
In my experience, editing before finishing kills that version of the story before the ideas get the chance to develop. You can’t make a pot without clay. And where does clay come from? Dirt.