Here’s a Writing Tip You May Have Come Across Before…
“Don’t Edit As You Write!”
Do you proofread and edit as you write? And if you do – is it really such a bad thing?
Writing tips, such as this recent post on the Authority Publishing website, often include the advice to write your first draft without proofreading and editing as you go along. I’ve mentioned this myself, elsewhere on this blog, and one of my readers recently commented that editing as you write is one of the best ways to “stifle your creativity”.
However, I have to admit, it’s advice that I personally find quite hard to follow. As a bit of a control freak with obsessive compulsive tendencies, I can rarely resist the urge to keep correcting, amending, improving and reviewing as I go along – I guess I’m just a natural born editor.
Judging by the comments I receive whenever I mention this issue, it’s something a lot of us seem to be struggling with, so I’ve decided to dedicate a couple of posts to this topic.
In today’s post I’m going to tackle the question “WHY”? Why is it considered a bad idea to edit as you write?
Next week I’ll be exploring the “HOW?” – how do you resist the temptation to edit as you write, particularly if, like me, you have a draconian editor sitting on your shoulder who just won’t shut up!
So – what’s wrong with editing as your write?
- For Everything There is a Time
It can be argued that writing and editing are different tasks, and that it makes sense to do them at different times. When you’re writing a first draft of an article or book, finishing touches really don’t matter. In the words of the great Winnie the Pooh:
“You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell
TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling
isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply
Winnie the Pooh
House at Pooh Corner
I guess I’d take issue with Pooh to some extent because, in the final edit, I’d want to make sure Tuesday IS spelled correctly. But, as with other slips and fluffs, it’s not such a big deal when you’re writing that first draft.
- It Might Make Your Writing More Stilted
You’ll often read the advice that you should try to write as you speak – as if you’re having a conversation with your reader. If you think about it, you don’t edit your speech when you’re having a chat with a friend. So your writing’s likely to come across much more naturally, with a more conversational tone, if you get in the habit of writing as if you’re just ‘talking’, without editing every line as you go. Because that’s NOT how you speak.
- It Could Sap Your Creative Energy
The editing process can be quite tiring. You need a lot of concentration to proofread and edit a piece of writing thoroughly. If you do all your editing and proofreading as you go along, you might find the writing process more strenuous, laborious and exhausting – and maybe not so much fun. I think this is one of the more powerful reasons for resisting the urge to edit as you write. Because if you find the writing process a grueling, onerous task, you’re more likely to give up on it.
- It Can Interrupt Your Flow of Thought
Editing as you write can be like turning a tap on and off – the tap in question being the one that controls the flow of your creative ideas. If you keep stopping to edit your work, you risk losing track of your thoughts, making your writing more disjointed – and you might just ‘lose’ some great ideas along the way. Have you ever been in the middle of writing something when you’ve been interrupted – perhaps by a telephone call, or someone wanting a chat – and when you go back to your work, you haven’t a clue what you were about to write? Editing as you write can have the same effect, breaking your stream of creative thoughts.
- Right Brain versus Left Brain Argument
The theory goes that writing and editing engage different sides of your brain. The right side of your brain is supposed to be best at expressive, inventive tasks, whereas the left side has more to do with things like logic and reasoning.
The idea is that these different bits of your brain will work more effectively if you allow them to get on with their respective tasks independently, rather than letting them interfere with each other. You’re supposed to let the right side of your brain (the creative anarchist) take the floor when you start writing, and only bring the left side (the analytical disciplinarian) into play when you’re ready to edit.
The danger, in mixing the two processes up (creating and editing), is that your logical left brain will suppress the passionate, creative urges of its more unruly cousin. I guess it could also work the other way round – if your bohemian, artistic right brain is the more dominant, its ill disciplined tendencies might foul up the editing process. But the argument for not editing as you write is invariably couched the other way around, on the assumption that it will stifle your imagination and creativity.
Do These Arguments Stack Up?
Is Editing as You Write Really Such a Bad Thing?
I used to accept the advice not to edit as you write without question, even though I always found it difficult to put into practice. However, as I’ve reflected on it more deeply, I have to be perfectly honest and say I think the jury’s out on this issue. I’ve read comments from a number of writers who do edit as they write, at least to some degree, and don’t see a problem with it.
I’m in the mood for putting the cat among the pigeons today so, even though I think the points above have merit, here are a few counter-arguments for you to think about:
- Isn’t editing, at least to some extent, a creative activity? I’m not talking about proofreading (checking for spelling and grammar mistakes etc.) – by editing, I mean the process of reviewing, rearranging and refining your material. I’m not convinced it’s all purely ‘left brain’, analytical stuff. The way you phrase a sentence, structure a paragraph or arrange the sections of an article involves creativity, not just logic and reasoning.
- Can we really neatly package the tasks our brains perform into separate compartments, in the way the right brain/left brain theory implies? Isn’t the way our brains function, when we write and edit, more complicated than that?
- If, as you’re writing, you suddenly realize it would be better to reword a sentence or rearrange a section of text, does it make sense to leave it as it is and keep writing regardless? You might forget those ideas later and lose the chance to improve it.
I’m sitting on the proverbial fence here – I do still edit as I write, I don’t regard it as a terminal condition for any writer, but I have to admit I’d like to do less of it. So in next week’s post I’m going to explore some ideas to help those of you who, like me, want to learn how to write first drafts more freely, leaving your editor’s pencil in the drawer.
OK – over to you. I’d love to hear your views on this. So tell me….
- Do you edit as you write?
- If so, do you regard it as a problem?
- Do you have any advice for those of us who’d like to resist the urge – any tips you’d be willing to share, which you’d like me to include in next week’s post?
Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget – if you’ve enjoyed this post, it would be great if you’d share it with your friends!
Happy writing (and editing!) Sue Neal
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