Snippets of an Author’s Life: Post 9
As 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 is when you judge and filter out your ideas or words before they ever hit the page.
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 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.
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.