As every writer knows, writing is rewriting – except for those who insist writing is editing. Either way you slice it, you can’t get away with writing “the end” and saying “I’m done!”
One piece of advice I got early in my journey to publication was to write a “vomit draft” – just get everything down on the page, as quickly as possible, while silencing your internal editor. Don’t look back; just keep going and going until you hit “the end.” The danger in “editing as you go,” this direction warned, was that you’d stifle your creativity and spend so much time just trying to get certain words right that you end up never finishing the book at all. I’ve always followed this advice, mainly because I’ve been terrified about not finishing projects. While every writer has a computer or trash can filled with unfinished stories, no one makes their dreams come true if none of those stories has an ending.
The Writers in Paradise conference I just attended (and when I named this blog I had no idea there was such a conference) had two separate speakers talk on the art of revision. Neither of them recommended that a writer complete a first draft before starting the revision process.
Author Ann Hood (An Italian Wife, The Red Thread, The Knitting Circle, etc.) believes every writer needs to develop his or her own editing system. Hood personally starts her writing day by reading the previous day’s pages out loud. Other systems she mentioned:
The writer prints out and reads to revise in 50 page increments.
Saving every Friday for “editing day.
Editing at the end of every writing day.
Beginning each writing day by reading and revising everything that’s been written so far. (I imagine days would get pretty long near the end of the novel!)
Personally, I like the “save Friday for editing day” edict, as my Fridays tend to be too busy for writing but there are pockets of time where I can make notes. For me, editing can be done in spurts no matter where I am, while writing requires a long stretch of time and a quiet place. I also plan to work on the book outline at the same time – I continually strive to be more of a planner than I actually am.
Although these steps seem glib, the revision process is anything but easy. It’s one thing to realize your protagonist comes across as shallow; it’s another to take the steps in the writing that show her in all her layers. Writing is hard. Rewriting is harder. But for most of us, it’s not a choice.
What’s your editing system? Let me know in the comments …