Is there a right way to write? Should you write your first draft, then edit or edit as you write?
That’s a debate that’s been going on almost as long as there have been more than two writers living at the same time. I don’t expect to resolve the issue here. Indeed, I don’t expect to resolve it at all. Those who have settled into their routines swear by them and will probably never change them.
This post is for the writer who may still be new enough to the business to be looking for their best routine. I’ll describe the three major categories, then share a primary advantage and a primary disadvantage to each.
The rest will be up to you!
By the way, this is not a discussion on the virtues of pre-planning or writing by the seat of your pants. All three of these methods work for Planners, Pantsers, and Tweeners.
Write and Edit Each Day
You write and edit in the same process. After writing each scene or chapter, you go back over it, making it the best it can be before moving on to the next. You may write in the morning and review in the afternoon or write one day and review the next, but it is likely you’ll give the writing time to “cool off” before you go back and edit.
The first draft written this way is generally more polished—not to say well-polished—than a first draft written any other way.
It takes longer to write a first draft.
It’s easy to get hung up on a chapter or to obsess so much that forward progress is slowed or lost altogether.
Write the First Draft, Then Edit
You write the entire first draft first and give no thought at all to editing. This is the creative phase and is not to be interrupted. You probably don’t even reread the previous day’s work before launching into fresh writing.
Write fast and, if possible, with no thought beyond getting words on paper.
The first draft is generally finished more quickly than if you edit as you write. It’s possible to write a complete first draft in 30 to 90 days. There’s nothing like the rush of enthusiasm—or relief—that comes with reaching this milestone. Those who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo know exactly what I mean.
The finished first draft can be a mare’s nest of plotting and character development problems—as many who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo also know! Writing the first draft is faster, but editing is slower and may involve a lot of rewriting.
Somewhere in the Middle
You salt your writing with a little editing. Perhaps you begin the writing day by reading the previous day’s work.
The difference between this method and the first method is that you’re not doing heavy editing. For example, when I begin writing each day, I review what I wrote the previous day to warm up my writing muscles and to get back into the story. If I find misspelled words, I correct them. If there’s a better word choice, I’ll change that, too.
But I don’t make major editing changes. This is just a warm up exercise, like stretching before a run.
This method is a great way to overcome the obstacle of writing the first word every day. By the time you get to new writing, you’ve already written a word or two!
Reviewing the previous day’s work may derail any fresh ideas for the day.
These are not the only three options. They are, in fact, only three points on a continuum that begins at one end, with writing and editing at the same time, and runs all the way to the other end, keeping writing and editing separate. You may find your best writing routine to be somewhere between two of these points.
Or you may find yourself using different methods at different stages of the writing process or for different stories!
However you write, finishing first drafts is all a matter of focusing on the task at hand without completely ignoring the other half of the equation.