Editing: Part 3 – When should I start editing?

The answer to the question “When should I start editing” is the same answer to many writing and editing questions: It depends.

Writers fall into two distinct camps when it comes to editing. Some like to edit as they write. They finish a scene or a chapter and go back and edit it before moving on to the next scene or chapter. I know a few successful and prolific writers who do a good job of editing as they write. Perhaps that has always been the way they write best or maybe they developed the skill through years of experience and the pressure of deadlines.

Editing as you write requires:

  • An organized and well-planned outline: If you don’t know exactly what plot point will occur in every chapter or the how you will structure your how-to book, you will end up editing material that you later decide to delete or change.
  • The discipline to edit, then continue writing: Some writers spend so much time revising and polishing the first chapter or scene they never finish their book.

In my experience, most writers edit more effectively if they finish the first draft before they begin to edit. I’ve written about this earlier: The First Draft: Pure Green Dreck, Editing: Turning Dreck into Prose, Ten Tips for Self-Editing, and Seven Editing Tips for Professional and Nonprofessional Writers.

Other writers agree with me. Eric Eggertson at Common Sense PR wrote:

Only when you have the structure of the piece where you want it to be should you bother honing the wording, correcting spelling and checking facts. Why fix a typo at the beginning when you might delete the whole paragraph?

Although the post is a couple of years old, Editing Your Writing at All Kinds of Writing generated a lively discussion among several writers who share how they edit. You will see different perspectives that may help you decide which editing method you prefer.

I finish the first draft before I edit, but I do use Word’s auto-correct to correct common mistakes as I type. Unlike spell check and grammar check, auto-correct can be customized to eliminate your most common errors without creating new errors. You can add the words that are your bugbears and know that when you type harrassment, auto-correct will change it to harassment (one of my bugbears). You won’t spend any time or energy correcting those common mistakes – while writing the first draft OR while editing.

Do you edit as you write? Or do you finish your first draft before you start to edit?

In future installments, we’ll cover the various steps in editing your manuscript, assuming you have written a first draft and have “pure green dreck” to turn into powerful prose.

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