At my last writers meetup, I mentioned that I never bring work to read that hasn’t been edited. Another person mentioned Stephen King’s advice to spend 90 days drafting a novel, set it aside for 90 days, and then edit it. That process works great for Stephen King – and many others.
But it’s not my process. What works for me is starting each day’s writing by editing the previous day’s work. Depending on how long it’s been between writing days – and the length of the piece – I may go back to the beginning.
Sometimes I run out of writing time before I get done editing. That’s okay. The next day’s editing will go faster, because there’ll be less to fix.
This process has its advantages. It gets my head back in the story, warms up my writing muscles and makes drafting easier than coming to the piece cold. It also means that by the time I finish a draft, it’s received at least one editing pass, leading to a cleaner first draft. For longer works, the first chapter has usually gotten several editing passes.
Maybe it’s because I’m coming from an ad agency/web developer background. The idea of getting a week – much less 90 days – to polish my work is a rare luxury. And I never show anybody – client, coworker or boss – anything I haven’t at least given a second look.
Some caveats: Some writers have a tough time turning off their internal editor. So, switching from editing to drafting in the same writing session may not work for them. They may need to use the “finish it, set it aside and come back to it” process.
Also, one way this doesn’t help me is with structural edits. Great big story-level problems can’t be fixed by copy editing your dailies. Which means – yes, sorry – you need another copy editing pass after you’ve finished story-doctoring.
On a flash fiction piece, this is less of an issue. I have rewritten an entire flash story that wasn’t working, but they usually consist of only one or two writing sessions anyway. In a novella or novel, it’s tempting to either:
- Let your nice, clean copy edited draft convince you to skip structural edits (those gaping plot holes aren’t that big a deal, right?), or
- Decide to skip copy edits after you re-engineer the story, drop two subplots, add another one, and condense five characters into two.
Don’t do either of those things, kiddos. Editing-as-you-go leads to a less-painful-to-read first draft – which is a great reason to do it. The revision process can convince you that you suck, so making yourself feel like there’s a good book in there somewhere is valuable. But it doesn’t lead to a polished, publication-ready manuscript.