Creative Writing: Don’t Say “Edit” When You Mean “Censor”

Snippets of an Author’s Life: Post 9

VintageTypewriter-dreamstime_xs_31850414As a writer who frequently reads about the process of writing, I often hear: don’t edit during your initial draft. This well-intentioned advice comes in forms such as “Turn off your inner editor,” “Never edit as you go,” and “Only do your editing at the end.”

Many writers claim that their inner-editor voice fights with their free-willed, creative-writer voice. They see the two entities—writer and editor—as opponents rather than teammates. I’ve always maintained that my inner editor works with my creative writer, not against it. Editing, to me, is just the other side of the same coin as creative writing; both help me to fully express what I want to say, and usually take place at the same time. Editing is not the same as censorship.

But even light editing disturbs the flow, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. I don’t write any faster if I refrain from tweaking and correcting little things as I go. Transcription of images, feelings, and ideas into words, for me, is painful at best. It’s a struggle that allows me ample time to correct the most blatant errors or inaccuracies that would otherwise eat at me. (That would break my flow.) I often have to pause, think, or reread a line or paragraph before I can continue—that’s how I maintain my flow. On such a pass, I tweak.

Before you disagree with me, let’s look at definitions of editing, revision, and censorship. When people say “don’t edit” while writing your first draft, I believe they mean “don’t censor.” I agree that you should not censor yourself initially, or you could lose powerful, raw content. As far as writing from deep within your soul, writing what scares you, or writing while unbridled ideas pour from your fingertips, I’m all for that.

Although editing can be a collective label for all three terms below, I believe a distinction should be made among them. The words should not be used interchangeably.

Censorship

Censorship is when you judge and filter out your ideas or words before they ever hit the page.

Revision

Revision, in its simplest form, is when you reconsider and alter your previous text. You might change words, adjust punctuation, rearrange sentences, or move entire blocks of text. You might modify characters, plot, POV, level of formality, or adjust vocabulary and sentence length to suit your target audience. Many writers refer to revision as a rewrite of their earlier draft(s), where they make corrections and improvements. There is a degree of overlap with editing.

Editing

Editing is an extensive process comprising of several levels: substantive (big picture—development, overall structure), stylistic (paragraph and sentence structure), copy editing (sentence level—grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, consistency, wordiness, repetition, redundancy, clarity), and proofreading (word level—typos, repeated words, spelling, punctuation, and formatting). The purpose is to ensure an error-free manuscript that adheres to conventions, is readable, and has consistency throughout. Fact checking is also a branch of editing, usually for an additional fee, and ensures accuracy.

Editing can be light or heavy. When I lightly edit “as I go,” I tweak punctuation (the body language of written text), spelling (distracting if incorrect), precision of words (generates the right image or meaning), and, to some degree, sentence structure (affects interpretation) while I’m “in the moment.” These enhance the synthesis, articulation, and communication of my initial creative expression rather than hinder it. In other words, I can edit how I write something without censoring what I write.

Other writers charge through, preferring to leave any correction for a subsequent pass. Each writer must decide for him- or herself if light editing along the way stifles the creative process, inhibits flow, or interferes with the progress of an initial draft.

So …

Should you edit while you generate an initial draft? It depends. Writer, know thyself.

Should you censor? If you want to capture something potentially great, then no. Don’t block, filter, or question during the initial draft. Write first; scrutinize later.

About Eva Blaskovic

I am a multi-genre author of literary fiction and fantasy, and writer of non-fiction articles on parenting, writing, education, health, and travel. My background encompasses both the sciences and the arts. I teach at a specialized clinic for learning difficulties and mentor young authors. In addition to writing and teaching, my passions are weather, Indian food, gardening, and music. I have played eight musical instruments and spent many years immersed in taekwondo and karate. In my youth, I was an avid canoeist. I was born in Prague, Czech Republic, grew up in Ontario, Canada, and moved to Alberta in 1988, where I raised four children.
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3 Responses to Creative Writing: Don’t Say “Edit” When You Mean “Censor”

  1. As a writer by avocation and an editor by trade, I say, “OK, up to a point.” The words “censor” and “censorship” get bandied around much too lightly, but I’ll buy your definition if you extend it a bit: “Censorship is when you judge and filter out your ideas or words before they ever hit the page out of fear of what someone else will think.“. What slows many of us down is perfectionism, the notion that if something doesn’t come out perfect the first time it’ll never be any good. If you’ve got a perfectionist streak (and it seems that many editors too), turning your internal editor off in the early stages is generally a good idea. It’s why I do all my first-drafting in longhand — my handwriting is not easy to read — and don’t start tweaking till I type it into a Word file.

    Until I got my first editorial job, I didn’t realize that editing and writing were considered separate skills. I assumed that editing was part of writing. I no longer believe that. They’re related, but they’re not the same. Some people have both in fairly equal measure, but others lean heavily to one side or the other. For those of us who have both, getting them to work together without tripping each other up can be a challenge. I often think of writing as the engine and editing as the brakes and steering wheel. Keeping the engine running is the most important thing. Without that, who needs either brakes or a steering wheel?

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    • Susanna, thank you for your addition to self-censorship. I value your feedback and input. Writing and editing are indeed separate skills, and I like your engine to brakes and steering wheel analogy.

      Since I always expect to revise countless times and never expect an initial (or many subsequent) drafts to be perfect, or even seen, by others, whether I edit lightly or not as I go has no impact on what I get on the page, how far I get, or how fast, since I know the material will be rewritten and refined anyway. But glaring errors as I go annoy me, so I tidy those up, knowing that many edits–the real edits–are yet to come. I *am* a perfectionist, but I turn off perfectionism until after the first draft. It’s essential to do that. However, I also realize that many writers should *not* do what I do if they want their work, perhaps some of their best work, to ever see the light of day.

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  2. Pingback: Surprising Things I Learned the Year I Won NaNoWriMo | Beyond the Precipice

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