Stop Editing as You Write

Editing at the end of the writing process instead of as you go has the potential to be a much more efficient approach.

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Editing is a very important part of the writing process, but it has a time and a place; not when writing. The problem with editing as you go—write something, edit it, write more—is that you can very easily get stuck in a cyclic rut where you are constantly editing the same thing, multiple times, unnecessarily. The main reason that I like to edit at the end instead of as I go is simple: efficiency.

No matter how thoroughly you plot before you start writing, or how well you stick to your plot whilst writing, issues tend to crop up. Maybe you realise something that you’d never thought of or there’s a plot hole that you have to go back and fix. That will have to be dealt with no matter what, and will require on-the-spot editing.

To demonstrate the difference between editing as you go and only editing when you need to, we can break down the time spent mathematically.

Two writers are both writing a book of the same length, at the same pace (the rate or frequency of writing is a variable that doesn’t need to be considered for this). For the purposes of the exercise we can assume the following:

  • Each is writing a thirty-chapter book;
  • Writing a chapter takes ten hours;
  • Editing a complete chapter takes two hours each time.

Both writers will discover an issue at chapter sixteen that needs to be solved before they can move on to chapter seventeen. In our example, it will take fifteen hours to solve that problem.

Writer One is just writing a first draft and will edit upon completion, as they’ll understand not only the big picture but the nuances of each character decision and motivation. They’ll complete a first draft in 315 hours.

Writer Two edits as they go to improve each chapter and the voice within, yet will still have to edit the entire manuscript upon completion. They’ll complete a first draft in 375 hours.

If each writer was working a full eight-hour day on their manuscript, five days a week, then Writer Two will need to put in an additional seven and a half days to finish their first draft. If, however, each writer only spends an hour a day—as they have a job, family, life, or anything else that can impact writing—then Writer Two will take an additional three months.

All this is, of course, discounting time spent thinking about the story, the characters, and mentally problem solving. Each round of edits adds in extra thinking time, which is variable depending on the individual writer.

In addition, each writer will have multiple rounds of editing waiting for them upon completion of the first draft, and assuming both edit the complete piece five times, they are both looking at 350 hours of editing.

This analysis has made a lot of assumptions and isn’t by any means perfect, but I feel that it does demonstrate that editing as you go has the potential to be significantly less efficient than editing at the end. Writing is incredibly individual and there is no set way to do things. Part of the joy of writing is discovering your own way of working. For me, I’ve tried editing as I go and I’ve tried editing at the end, and I’ve found the wasted time spent on editing as I go is quite frustrating. So, editing at the end works very well for me and, if you’re still figuring out what your writing methods are, it’s well worth a try.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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