Edit as You Write or Go with the Flow

This is a subject that will warrant different responses from each author.  Some cannot help themselves but to edit as they go along trying to get down that first draft.  You have others of us who fly through a first draft with very little thought to the editing.  Their drive is in getting the story out.  For myself, I’m normally somewhere down the middle.  I believe there are advantages that come with approaching it in this manner.  In fact, I believe all things in life should be about balance. And that includes all aspects of our writing processes.

When I first started out writing, I never really gave much thought to the editing side of things.  I was more excited that I was writing in the first place, and once I had the first novel behind me, it was like “Wow! I wrote a novel!”  But things changed.  I continued to grow in my writing journey.  I realized I didn’t just want to write, I wanted people to read my work, and I wanted it to be available for the masses.  This meant editing.

I must admit before I set out to do so with my first novel, I really had no idea what was involved.  Prior to having written a novel, I’d pick one up to read with zero thought about what it took to get it in my hands.  Now here I was faced with taking a story I had conjured up and the challenge of making it great.  Where to start?  You know, I thought I knew what I was doing.  It’s funny looking back because it’s unbelievable how far I’ve come.  Anyway, that’s another post.  But, sum it up to say A LOT of work goes into editing.

It’s this paramount task that is very daunting to some, if not most, authors.  It’s like one of those things we say we’re doing, “I’m editing”, as if it were “I’m going to the dentist”.  It’s hard work, and depending on the state of the first draft, it can be an immense job.  This is why some reason if they edit as they go along, they’ll have an easier job on the other side.  What are your thoughts?

Sure there are advantages to editing as you go, as just mentioned, it might make the job on the other end a little easier to handle.  But is it worth it when you think about how it can affect the outworking of a story?  Again, everyone is different and has their process.  We all have to consider:  What are the advantages to editing as you go, and what are the negatives to doing so?

For me, I know if I were rigid about editing as I went along I’d hinder the flow of storytelling.  I’d risk the scenes becoming flat and monotone.  I like to go along writing as if I were watching a movie unfold before me.  Maybe you’re the same?

If I continually stopped to backspace for this, or exchange one word for another, or take out this whole paragraph because I didn’t think it would fit into the final product, wouldn’t it be like hitting pause a number of times when watching a movie?  It would disrupt your line of thought, and remove you from the emotion of the scene.  Let’s face it, emotion is what we really need to get out there.   Of course, this is polished during the course of edits, but think of what scenes you might have lost out on all together.

Like I mentioned at the start, I like to find a balance between the two.  If there’s a word I really know doesn’t fit I’ll change it, but I try not to judge myself as I go.  I let the story flow.  My personal style involves some embellishments and flourish with the first draft.  When I’m going with the flow sometimes a few sentences come out back to back that essentially say the same thing.  Maybe you’re cringing right now?  Not me, because when I go back to edit I have the option to chose what works best for me.  Sometimes it results in the blending of a few sentences to make one I’m especially proud of.  But if I judged myself, edited as I went along, I might not have reached that final product.

When it comes to the outworking of a novel, I can appreciate some direction in a first draft is needed.  I’m mostly a panster, meaning I go with the flow and let the story take me where it shall, but by doing this sometimes I can run into issues.  But maybe this is more planning than editing.  Sometimes when our story takes a different turn, we might want to go back and change things up a bit right then.  Still we have to use caution.  I believe scenes were write are for a purpose--whether they make it to the final draft or not is besides the point. These can provide more insight into who our characters are, provide background, and instill motivations. 

Anyway, these are my thoughts on editing as you write, or going with the flow.  What are yours?


  1. I am wonderfully inconsistent. On clear-headed days I tend to stop a lot, reconsider, play with every word. On days when the wind blows I am more likely to just go for it - and tease out the gems from the rubbish afterwards. It seems to work for me - and, since I'm the one doing the writing, that will have to do!

  2. I first write by hand into an A4 writing pad. Once my session's writing has hit the brick wall I read over what I've wrote and make a few alterations when needed(almost always), sometime later I type the work into my laptop and almost always find myself doing more editing whilst I'm at this stage. It's probably not the fastest process but it's what works best for me. And hopefully when it comes to re-drafting the final product, it won't be such a momentous task.

    1. I've hand-written parts of a book before, and I am with you. I find I edit as I enter. It is all about what works for each of us.

  3. I move forward with the story and review the day's work, making obvious corrections and improvements. Then I pick up where I left off and move forward again. I think the worst thing a writer can do from a big picture perspective is to try to get all the words right on the first draft. The better approach for me is to get to "The End," and save the major portion of the editing as the next phase in the project. And you are right, editing is hard, tedious work. Thanks for the great blog.

    1. I've gone over and a read a bit of the writing from the day before too. I try not to change much unless it's a word that was exchanged for the correct one.

      Pleased you like my blog.

  4. The only time I edit while I'm writing a first draft is if I'm stuck and can't think of where to go next with the story. Then I'll go back and edit. Rereading the story while I'm revising/editing usually helps me to pick the story back up.

  5. I'm another one who hand writes the first draft. I begin editing when I type the manuscript up. In both cases I let the story take me along with it. I know I'll be going back over the words many times so I don't worry about missing things or if the latest twist in the story means that an earlier section will have to change. Each editing pass leads to fewer changes until I'm down to playing with punctuation. The most important things it that whatever works for you is the way to go. Editing is a painful process - we shouldn't make it any harder for ourselves.

  6. Carolyn, I tend to write scenes that seem unrelated at first. I might get dozens down before I find a plot. Once that happens, I sort of arrange the scenes like pieces of a puzzle. That requires an immediate edit to fuse them into a sort-of narrative. Then more scenes, the next plot twist puts them in order, etc. It doesn't make logical sense.

  7. Editing can also mean different things. I'm not a prolific writer, so I can get away with some light editing while I'm writing. For example, you won't find many punctuation errors in one of my first drafts. And as long as I am using a spell checker, you won't find misspelled words. I'm not using one right now, so don't judge.

    However, I agree with you that you shouldn't allow the deeper aspects of editing to get in your way. No need to analyse every scene to make sure it fits. That can be done later.


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