Do You Fight the Urge to Edit Right Away?

Editing Fantasy Sci-fi author Shana Scott

I’m going to pull back from world building a little bit to talk about the editing process. How writers edit their own work differs from person to person, but there are general, broad -level steps most take. Write a draft, get feedback, edit, get feedback again, edit second draft, and so on. But do you edit yourself before you ever write?

This topic came up in my writing group a while ago, when one of our members said he was going to really fight the urge to go back and edit his chapters right away. Doing so would only stop him from writing the next chapter, which was a problem he had when starting projects.

I had trouble understanding that feeling, because unless a chapter or even short story needs massive editing that is going to cause upheaval in other parts of the book or story, I have zero desire to go back to it for quite some time. In the case of novels, I tend to not touch a chapter until the whole piece is done. For short stories I’ll usually move on to something else for a month or so before going back to edit (unless I’m on a deadline for submission).

This is because long before I write anything down, I’ve already been running the scene or the story in my head for weeks usually. I have one of those brains that just can’t stop thinking, and if I don’t have something to think about, it will over think everything around me. Or in my past. Or proceed to show me disastrous futures. Isn’t anxiety fun?

One way I’ve learned to cope with this constant over thinking is to daydream stories. If I have a story to think about, I can’t think about stupid shit that isn’t ever really going to affect me. So I run scenes. Over and over and over and over. I won’t necessarily run the same scene back to back, but I’ll take major scenes in the piece I’m working on and run them in my head here and there.

For a while, the scene will be different each time I run it. Conversations will change, actions will shift, even major plot elements will crop up out of nowhere and I’ll have to restructure other scenes to accommodate. Then, the scene will start to get more and more similar each time I run through it. When no more surprises pop up and the scene starts to feel rote to me, I know that is what the scene is supposed to be, and can write it easily.

That’s not to say I don’t edit it again after it’s written, but I can’t do it right away. I’ve basically done the first and second drafts of that scene before it even appeared on my computer screen, and I need some distance before I can go back and find what’s wrong.

I was a little surprised the others in my writing group didn’t do this, which we collectively decided was why they wanted to go back immediately to edit and I didn’t. To me it was the natural way to create. I was more surprised when one member said he’d heard a teacher once describe that as a technique for self-editing. Taking the time to day dream before starting to write so that what you write isn’t a bare-bones first draft. (I tried googling this to find a proper name, but my keyword game was not up to snuff on this one.)

So if you are struggling with moving forward with a story or novel because you keep going back to fix the flaws, try daydreaming on it for a few days and see what can happen before you write.

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