Thursday, June 14, 2012

What First? Writing and Editing

So I'm working on newish projects--projects that haven't yet been revised or edited.  In fact, they're still incomplete drafts.  And I ask--when is it best to start revising and/or editing?

Sometimes it's pretty clear when to do what. I crack the eggs BEFORE putting them in the cookie batter.I cut fabric AFTER I take measurements. I lather, rinse, THEN repeat.
And of course, first pants, THEN shoes.

But when it comes to the writing process, it's not so cut and dried. The posters in my elementary school classrooms would beg to differ--they say you "prewrite" (which inevitably involved bubbles and arrows in my grammar school days), write a rough draft, revise it, which produces another draft, which you edit and polish into a final draft.

Anyone else feel like it's not so simple?  At least not for writing novels?

Now, I know writers who do keep it simple--they butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard plow through a full first draft before going back to tinker with it. They draft by Just Writing.

Other writers make their daily cycle editing the previous day's work, then writing new material. Or writing first thing in the morning, then editing in the afternoon.

Some writers write half of their first draft, then reevaluate it and revise it before moving on. Some folks write the end first, and then string together other scenes, then revise to smooth out the bumps.

Some writers make each chapter perfect before moving on to the next chapter.

Me? I have no idea when the best time to start revising is.  There are drawbacks to each--a finish the draft, then revise method will probably mean a messier draft and more time revising.  Spending time on editing before a draft is complete might mean deleting scenes you spent time revising--when you could have been writing or polishing material that would actually stay in the draft.

I think it comes down, not to efficiency, but to outlook.  How can you tackle the project best?  How does your brain work?  If it needs the entire draft before it can see the holes, write the whole draft.  If it's going to drive you bonkers to have an inconsistent character issue from chapters 1-3, go fix it and move on.

For my own writing, it's fairly constant. I write a sentence, I change a couple words, I keep going, I hit a stride, I'm still on a pattern of type-type-type-delete-delete-retype. And then as I read through scenes to get me in the right frame of mind for writing on, I'm still swapping and changing and adding and deleting, both on a micro and macro level.  It's easier for me to move the scene that needs to go earlier now than it is to wait until the draft is finished.  It's part of a pretty organic process for me--it makes first drafts take a while, but the revision stage is--at least has been thus far--easier. Revision ends up being more about big-picture issues than individual scene or language troubles. Which has its own set of drawbacks: Sometimes I delete well-polished material.

But that works for me.

So all I can really say, when it comes to writing and editing, is, essentially, Pants First, THEN Shoes: Words First, THEN Edit. It doesn't matter when, or how many words, or how long between writing them and starting to tinker with them. Just write them. Then make them better.

What's your writing-editing-lather-rinse-repeat process?

*An earlier version of this post appeared on my old blog--do not adjust your screen, do not seek deja-vu-counseling* 

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