To Plow or to Edit?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
This depicts literal plowing. I am,
of course, referring to a figurative,
writing-type plowing.
I’ve heard two schools of thought when it comes to writing. There are those who believe, most ardently, that authors should write without editing until the manuscript is complete. On the other hand, there are fervent proponents for editing as you go.

I spoke to a fellow writer years ago, and he felt that it’s much better to finish your work in progress first, without stopping.  The editing, re-reading, and adding on to each scene came later, in his opinion. He believed that a writer loses sight of their story when they stop to edit as they write. In his opinion, finishing the work is the most important goal, and exerting editing effort on a first draft is a waste of time.

Another writer friend says she cannot move forward with a scene when it is choppy and unedited. Knowing that a scene isn’t strong bothers her and makes her less productive. In her opinion, even first drafts should have some literary merit.

I tried both of these approaches over a six day period to decide for myself.

For the first three days, I didn’t edit my work. Not even once. I pushed forward, doing my best to stay focused. I wrote. I wrote a LOT. In three days, I managed to add about a two-thousand words a day, which is very productive for me.

Still on a production high, I entered the next three days with enthusiasm. This time, I stopped after every page and re-read my work, making changes, adding details and rewriting sentences. I was lucky if I finished five-hundred words a day during this period, but I certainly had a strong sense of my characters and plot.

While it may sound like writing without stopping was the better choice, I found that revising as I went was the more satisfying experience. Even though I was productive when I wrote without stopping, I felt less content with my product. At the end of each day, I was left with a feeling of unease, hyper-aware that what I had composed was, for lack of a better word, uneven. On days where I took the time to revise, I felt complete. When I started writing the next day, I was able to look back on the previous day’s work with a sense of fulfillment.

For me, slow, steady, and meticulous was the way to go. I do see how finishing your work quickly can bring a sense of gratification, but paying attention to detail helped me create a more effective story.

So what do you think, lovely readers? Plow through, or pay attention to detail? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Beth--I do a combination. If it's been a while, I'll reread what I last wrote--where I left off--and I'll revise that part before moving forward. Otherwise, I usually dive right in and forge ahead, let it sit, then work on revising.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Each of us knows what works for us. What works for you as a writer doesn't necessarily work for another writer.

Thanks for this post. It's always a good idea to reflect on our practices and our craft.

Anonymous said...

I tried NaNoWriMo last year, and found that sloppy and fast definitely does not work for me. I think it may have been my time in newspapers, when my "first draft" was published. I find it less frustrating to refine it a little more up front than to have to revise to the point of redoing it. Too often, I think writers find what works for them, and think it works for everyone else. Sloppy drafts seem to be the prevailing wisdom, but it doesn't work for me

Beth said...

I agree with both of you. It really is a matter of taste and what works for the individual. I thought it was fun to try both ways, because I usually edit as I go. I have to admit that finishing 2000 words a day was fun, but I'll have to stick with the slower method for my own sanity. :)

Margo Dill said...

I like this experiment you did. I think I do a combination also and it depends on my mood and the length of the piece.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm with you, Beth. I have to edit as I go. It's great to feel you have a piece of nearly polished work, even if it's only a paragraph or two. I guess I'm worried about not being able to get back into the original thought and excitement of the initial thought. Then again, I really dislike the process of revising.

Beth said...

Angela - me too! I actually hate revising . . . or so I thought until this little experiment. Turns out, I rely on it so much. It's funny how we trick ourselves.

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