I have a writing strategy?

edit while writing

edit while writing

What writing strategy do you follow? I keep reading and hearing about not editing as you go along, about rushing through your first draft and finishing it, absolutely finishing it, before you move on to the editing stage.

It isn’t in my DNA

It isn’t working for me. I don’t know whether I am not trying hard enough, or whether I just don’t have that kind of DNA: the don’t-edit-as-you-go-along kind.

Here’s why. After I have written a certain amount of words—usually in the hundreds—I lose intensity. I do have the larger picture in mind, meaning I know what I want to write and how I want to set about it, but that very fact makes me pause every now and then and go back over what I have written to make sure I have not gone off track. It’s a kind of compulsive need, and it forms the root of my writing strategy.

And when I do go back, I catch things that I could improve: typos, obviously, and all the normal little errors that plague writers: punctuation, spelling, repetitive favorite words…

What works for me

I do correct whatever errors I catch as I scan my words, but they are not my priority. I am quite happy to go back to work on them later, after I have done writing. What I do focus on are words, phrases, sentences and even paragraphs that I can delete, add to and amend, reducing verbosity and boosting dynamism. Polishing the article so it is more in tune with what I am actually trying to say.

As I scan, a new idea that will improve the flow of my narrative may strike me. I lose no time in putting it into words and ensuring it jells with the rest of the narrative. At another point, I may see a way to improve the manner in which I have presented an idea; I don’t hesitate in getting to work on that improvement. Elsewhere, I come upon a better way I can describe a character or a setting. I put that thought out of my mind by putting it down on paper. On another page, I notice that reversing the order of two paragraphs improves the continuity of flow. I reverse them.

I have no doubt one of my most creative times is when I am going over something I have just written. I also have no doubt that if I don’t write while the ink is flowing, from my fingers and in my mind, I may lose flow later.

What doesn’t

I could, of course, note down everything that comes to mind as I scan on paper for working on later, but that would be rather stupid, wouldn’t it? I might as well take the time I use in making notes to actually make the changes I am making notes about. Am I making sense?

When I make mental notes, so that they won’t disturb my flow of writing, I lose big. After I am done writing, I try to remember the various notes I have filed away mentally, only to find that many of the files have corrupted, have been filed under some name I am never going to recollect, or have mysteriously been erased.

Going ahead

All said and done, I will continue to do what works best for me. I will continue to make efforts to see if I can switch over to a don’t-edit-while-you-write mode; a lot of “experts” say to do otherwise is actually a sign of procrastination, and obviously I don’t want to be guilty of that. At the least, I will make conscious efforts to change in one thing: keep my focus and write more before I go back. Instead of a few hundred works, maybe a thousand… maybe more.

Maybe not.

Having said all that, I have this to add: I am not prescribing any one writing strategy for anyone. You find your own way. Experiment all you like, but settle as soon as possible on what maximizes your output. It is the best way for you. Listen to all the experts, learn from them, adapt what they preach when it is in synch with you, but never forget: you may be a freak, an exception with your own unique approach. Don’t fight it—it may be the biggest injustice you do yourself.

As far as I can see, the best way to set about writing is this: for the physical act of writing, you need to stick to a regimen. Every day, I will put in so many hours of writing (I am not in favor of word count tracking—it can become an obsession that nags, exerts undue pressure and detracts from free flow of writing). In your mental approach to writing, you need to be flexible. No outline is immutable, no plot line is sacrosanct, no event is unalterable, no character is cast in stone. Until you publish.

What is your style? If you ever followed a writing strategy that cramped you and changed something to set that right, you may want to tell us about it. That is what the comment section is for.

  • Jennifer Ponce

    I’ve tried, over the years, to write from an outline but when I do, I lose my passion for the story.
    I edit as i write as well. There are times when the words flow and I don’t stop, but often the editing is needed for me to feel like I can move on. It gives me permission to continue with the story. When things feel wrong, the writing slows. Editing as I go helps address some of that.
    I believe as you do that it’s what works for you. Has to be. No one formula will work for every writer. Honor yourself and do what feels right for you.

    • venkyiyer58

      Jennifer Ponce: I, too write from an outline, but I use it more as a means of ensuring I don’t wander off the track (in terms of my story’s direction) hopelessly. Actually, I am pretty flexible about my outline; as I mentioned in the post, I believe nothing is immutable til you are finally published. I love to keep flexibility for myself. However, as far as the don’t-edit-as-you-write issue goes, I still intend to try out (not editing) until I am absolutely, finally satisfied that it is not going to work for me. Too many people are talking about the benefits of following this approach, in terms of increased efficiency of writing, for me not to take it seriously.

  • Denise Drespling

    It sounds like I have the opposite writing style–I write it fast, without editing, from an outline. But, my only absolute rule when it comes to writing styles is that you should earnestly try them all until you know what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t know that I write better fast until I had a tight deadline, and it changed my writing style (for the better) forever! If you know what works, stick with it! Just make sure you know for sure that the other methods don’t work for you.

    • venkyiyer58

      Denise Drespling: I intend to keep on trying the don’t-edit-as-you-write approach until I am fully and finally satisfied that it doesn’t (or does) work for me. Like you, too many serious authors have expressed the firm opinion that they benefit from not editing as they write in terms of focus and speed of writing; I would be a fool not to take them seriously.

I have a writing strategy?

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 4 min