Quick Tip: Stop Self-Editing While Writing
I’ll be blunt: Stop self-editing; it bites.
Self-editing isn’t a bad thing—until after your body of work is finished, that is. Oftentimes it slows your writing process down to a snail’s pace with indecision, self-doubt, and poor execution.
I have given this advice to many of my authors when they are pushed up against a deadline and need to get their manuscript completed—not edited, but actually written. (I won’t name any names but you know who you are.) The whole point to not self-edit while writing is so you can get the general chuck of your story, idea, dialogue, etc. on paper. Then you can go back later and fix it up, add new elements and dialogue, or develop your work more.
Editing, or even developing your story, isn’t the hardest part. When I’ve told authors to stop self-editing, I thought it would help them if they could see that once they got all their words out, making their manuscript perfect later would be a cakewalk. Maybe I think this way because I’m an editor before being a writer; I never really knew how hard it was for authors to actually take my advice until I tried it on my own.
I’ve written many stories in the past, all of them near and dear to my heart, but I’ve never finished them. Sadly. Recently, I thought I would try my hand at developing one of my many plot bunnies and got to work. I thought: Hey, Lauren. You’ve helped so many authors; this shouldn’t be too hard. Right? You’ve written over a hundred thousand words of an unfinished manuscript; you can so do this. Not a problem.
Hardly! It took me two weeks to finish two chapters. And I don’t like much of what I wrote and ended up going in a new direction. Now I’m starting from scratch.
My problem: I kept getting distracted with self-editing and didn’t get the work out while it was fresh in my head. I loved the story idea I had, but going back and back again to fix, add, or develop left me stagnate. At the rate I was going, those two weeks should have produced at least five or six three- to four-thousand-word chapters. Instead, my self-doubt reared its ugly head. I wanted to kick myself for not taking my own advice. I understand now how hard it is to let go of yourself and just let the words flow. I have found that self-editing during the writing phase for me and many I have worked with can ultimately make your work more divisive, bogged down with unneeded detail, and confusing. You can lose the direction you originally started with.
Others may argue with me, saying self-editing isn’t so bad. I’m only speaking from my personal experience.
My advice for anyone writing a manuscript:
- Stick to your outline, if you have one. Outlines will help you stay on track. If you don’t outline, make a clear point A to point B guide that’s not as in depth as an outline. Know where you’re going with your story, the basic elements. A wing and a prayer is a recipe for self-editing.
- If you feel the need to start to self-editing your chapters before you finish your manuscript, take a step back. Think about what you actually want to say instead of thinking of ten new things you may want to include in the body of work you just wrote.
- Bounce around ideas with writing partners or group and put them in a journal or Post-It for referencing later.
- I hear Scrivener is amazing; try a program like this to arrange your thoughts, characters, plots.
- Keep everything in perspective. No one said you have to perfect your manuscript in the first draft. Go easy on yourself.
- Keep it simple for the first draft. The task at hand is to just get it done. When your manuscript is completed, then start the editing process. This is the best time to fine-tune your story and think of all those things you wanted to add before. You have time now, and your head is in a different place since you’re not merely thinking of finishing your manuscript but improving it.