P.22: Put Away your Inner Editor on the First Draft

Someone in my NaNo region asked if they should really avoid making edits during their first draft, even if the writing isn’t any good.

I thought I gave him a good answer, so here’s what I wrote:

Locking the door on your inner editor on your first draft is really hard to do, but for me at least, it makes a huge difference.

Editing takes up a lot of time — more than writing, IMO, since it involves so much more reading, investigating, critical thinking and trial and error. Plus, for most of us, it’s not like we can edit a passage once and get it to the point we like — it takes many, many edits to get something to the point where we’re happy with it.

I think that can be dispiriting to do before you’re done with a complete draft. When you have a full story, you have that full story to spur you on. If you don’t have that full story, you can read over the same passages over and over again — that may need a lot of fixing to get good — and wonder if it’s even worth doing. If you have your full story done, and like it, then you know the answer is a resounding yes.

The only thing I’ll go back and change or edit on the first draft is if it’s related to the story — like if I realize I forgot to include a plot point earlier that’s important to my plot later. I make those edits because there’s a real chance that I could forget to do it in future drafts (or worse, think I did when I didn’t) and end up creating a plot hole.

But fixing grammar, typos, making language prettier and all that jazz can be done at any time — so I do it when my story’s done.

I forgot to mention two other reasons why it’s not worth making serious edits in a first draft.

  1. You’ll end up having to edit the same areas over and over again in the beginning, when fewer edits could have produced the same results. It’s wasting extra time.
  2. You may end up spending considerably time making edits to a part of a story you realize you’ll have to cut or drastically change, once you’re done with the first draft.

Like it or not, no one can really assess what’s worth spending time editing on when writing a book until there’s a finished draft, and trying to do so before then will not only waste time but could become a depressing vortex of doom you’re spiraling down in that leads to you fizzling out on the entire book.

While there are certainly some who can edit while they go along with the first draft of their book and get it all done in a good amount of time, there’s no real reason to do it. This is one of those things where the vast majority of people are better off trying to get a full story on paper before they do any reassessing.

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