Rules for When to Edit Your Writing

"Should I edit or keep writing?" I hear this question all the time.

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“Should I edit as I write?”

“Should I really write a crummy first draft? It feels so raw and uncomfortable.”

“I keep finding myself wordsmithing and then I get so little writing done. Is that okay?”

The short answer is that everyone finds what works for them, and you’ll need to experiment and see what works for you.

Generally, I do encourage emerging authors to write a rough first draft and edit later. There’s a freedom and power to getting it all down and then working with the raw material. However, not always. Here are my…

Rules for When to Edit—and Polish—as You Write

  1. You’re not sure whether what you’re doing is working. If you have doubts about the book—whether your doubts are about the content, tone, structure or something else, it can be important to get feedback early on. Ask someone in your target audience what they like and what doesn’t work for them. Where do they confused or bored? What do they want more of? Ask an open ended question as well, such as, “What other feedback do you have?”
  2. You’re writing a book proposal. Write a rough first draft of your sample chapter(s). Then, rather than writing the whole book, focus on polishing those one or two chapters for the proposal. Your agent or publisher may have changes to the book, so it will save you time not to write the whole thing in case there are dramatic changes in the book concept.
  3. Your gut tells you to polish each chapter before moving on. I’m a big believer in each of us having internal processes that work for us. If it really works for you to fine tune as you go, listen to your intuition. However, check in and see if it’s really your intuition speaking and reassess periodically to make sure your strategy is working.

If none of the three above apply, try writing rough drafts and keep moving. It will give you such momentum and freedom to get it down in draft form and later go back to perfect.

If you are editing, you may enjoy this post with 7 Quick Writing Tips, and this post with additional editing tips for tightening your writing.

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