Monday, April 8, 2013

To Edit or Not to Edit, That is Not the Question

Do you make edits to your work in progress as you write, or do you wait until the end to edit? (See Developmental Editing to clarify the editing I'm speaking of.)

After reading this post by Sean D’Souza, I realized I had to clarify my thinking on the subject of when to edit.

To give a brief overview, the brain learns in certain ways (read his article) and we can maximize how fast we learn if we understand this process and how to push it.

I have always been convinced that I make better decisions when I ‘sleep on it,’ whether I am debating on making a purchase, agreeing to do a thing (taking on a new project) or whether to change an aspect of my novel in progress.

As a writer I haven’t yet reached a point where I know and understand every aspect of the writer’s craft (and from the many books I’ve read, I’d say there are many, many more writers in the same situation than would like to admit it). 

So after I go to my critique group to share what I thought was a marvelous piece of work, only to come away finding out it is full of holes (I have a good group), I have to decide on the best way to handle that new information.

One way is to set the criticisms aside for a time when I can deal with it all at once at the end (which would seem to be the advice you hear most often; i.e., ‘don’t edit until you have the whole draft down.’). But after reading the above mentioned article, I’m reviewing this directive in a new light. Maybe waiting until you reach the end of your first draft to edit is not the best advice.

I never like absolutes because sooner or later you will find the holes in the theory and have to eat your own words (or edit them out as the case may be). Maybe there is a hole in the theory of waiting until the end before editing. I myself have said it (to encourage those who want to edit the first scene ad nauseam until it is ‘right.’), yet that is not what I actually do in practice.

What appears to work best for me is to come back from critique group and sleep on it. Then, the next day make the changes I feel appropriate while they are still fresh in my mind. 

In that way I learn what I did wrong, correct it and am less likely to repeat the same mistake again (or at least not too many times again) since I will be more apt to catch myself making that error in the future.

Another writer in my group puts all critique comments away, waiting until she finishes her first draft, (which is going slowly because of her life—funny how life has a way of interrupting our writing). But if this theory is right, that might not be a good solution. 

If we learn best by accretion then it might be better to make those corrections right away, as soon as we see them so we are less likely to repeat them over and over, leaving room to learn other aspects of writing we haven't yet grasped.

'Skill is the systematic reduction of errors,' d’Souza points out. So maybe sleeping on it and fixing those errors right away could increase your learning curve and your work. 

Do you make decisions best by sleeping on it or does something else work better for you?

I’d like to know your opinion, since I am in the middle of poking holes in this theory of waiting on editing until after the first draft is complete vs. editing immediately when you are shown there's a problem.


Dellani Oakes said...

What works best for me is to make edits as I go. I always read the material from the prior writing session before I sit down to write more. This gives me continuity and assures that I won't make some dumb mistake that I will later have to fix. I make changes AS I FIND THEM. The reason I do that is because errors are notorious for hiding and I may see it once, but not the next time I make a pass through the material.

Sometimes, I find that the story's direction isn't going where it needs to go. I CHANGE IT IMMEDIATELY! What's the point of finishing something that's flawed? Fix it right away, do the rewrite, make the edit, and don't wait. The same thing applies to major rewrites do them BEFORE editing. Why bother to edit a section you're either going to rewrite or eliminate. I don't have enough hours in a day to waste them making corrections I'm simply going to throw out later.

Cora said...

I can tell you are a productive writer. Thanks for sharing your style and methods.

Lesley Diehl said...

I do editing as I write, then I turn pages over to my critique partner. After she takes a look at it and suggests changes, I sleep on it and make changes I deem necessary. After the first draft is completed she goes through it again, I go through it again and again and again, put it away for a time, then go back and edit some more. Gosh, sometimes writing is so entwined with editing that I can't keep the two apart.

elizabethfais said...

Learning to play golf, tennis, or any other sport is not so different. You need to correct yourself immediately and "practice" the new form. I didn't really think about taking the same approach to writing, but it makes sense. Thank you Cora!

Unknown said...

I write for the day, then come back the next to edit what I have written. I repeat the process throughout the making of the book. Then, when I have the book done, I let it sit for two weeks, pull it out, and edit the whole thing again. During the two weeks I try to reflect on what I want to get across in each chapter and what emotions I want to draw from my readers. So. I pull out my outline and scribble notes as to what I want, then check the manuscript to see if I'm close. Before I submit the manuscript, I try to have a few people read/edit the thing before I send it to the publisher. It seems to work okay for me ;-) Thanks Cora for this great blog!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I guess I'm neither an immediate editor, re-writer, or simply plug along tyoe of writer. I keep an active ms in a notebook. After critique group, I note typos caught, spellings, whatever. I also put suggested change comments on the blank back side of the previous ms page and any thoughts I may contribute. As I plug along and have an 'Ah-Ha!' moment where it is imperative I lay the foundation for a current scene earlier, I simply go back and again write on the opposing blank page where I want such and such to happen and how. For me, this is the best of both worlds, the critique, corrections, notes, suggestions and all waiting for me for when I come through with my first revision and I don't waste my precious writing inserting or deserting commas in my previous work.

Ursula LeCoeur said...

I'm not a believer in writing an entire draft of novel before editing. I write as much as I can in a day--whether it's a few paragraphs or a whole chapter--and sleep on it. The next day I reread and edit what I wrote the day before. That process gets me back into the story. I find spelling errors, weird sentence structure etc. and correct them right then and there. Then I begin fresh text. Essentially I write, edit, write until the book is complete.

The danger is my method is the temptation to go back and revisit a chapter five times before moving on. If a writer gets into that sort of perfectioist mode, he or she will never finish a book.

Linda Maye Adams said...

I revise as I go along. Because I'm poor with details, I tend to leave them out entirely, so I have to make multiple revisions to one scene to get the details into the story. Sometimes it's right after I finish the initial draft of the scene, or like now, where I'm going to have to pay attention to five scenes that need some detail help.

Editing comes much, much later. I'm finished revising, and now I can clean things up.

Anastasia Vitsky said...

What a great post. I used to work with a control-freak editor who decreed, sight unseen, that she would make me do three re-writes. She wanted every comma perfect for the first draft, but she then proceeded to hand the manuscript back saying that it was a (paraphrased) complete mess and I should start over.

I quit working with her. There's a place for intensive editing, but it should be collaborative. Not combative. The best critique might make us annoyed or frustrated when we read it, but it will help us grow. The trick is to separate the best critique from critique that's simply destructive.

Oh, and a postscript. Since I quit working with that editor, I've produced some of (what I consider to be) my best work. :)

Cora said...

Ack! Sounds like the editor from hell. She obviously did not have a high opinion of writers if she insisted she would make you do 3 re-writes because she assumed it would be necessary.
Thanks for commenting.

Cora said...

I hadn't thought about the similarity with sports, but now that you mention it, I remember hearing that. Interesting, more to think about. Thanks Elizabeth.

Cora said...

You thoroughly digest your work before submitting it, I see. Good routine.

Cora said...

I think that must be where the saying to wait until the end to edit must have originated--because of the danger of getting into that perfectionist mode that is deadly to progress. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Cora said...

I do that, too, to keep from stopping the flow of the story coming out. I usually color code a word and some dashes to highlight where I need to go back and fill in with research details that I don't want to stop and look up at the moment of writing. I love color coding areas that I need to go back to when I edit.

Cora said...

Really? Those are two different parts of the brain for me; editing and creating. It breaks my flow too much to edit while creating. Different strokes. . .
Thanks for stopping by, Lesley.

Anastasia Vitsky said...

She was! It's nice to come across articles like this one that dispense with absolute decrees. For some people, a certain type of editing process works. For others, it doesn't. Doesn't mean that they are bad writers. :)

Gloria Getman said...
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