Editing as you write slows you down. Simple as that. Instead of writing a whole document, you rewrite what you’ve already written. Why edit a document when you haven’t even finished writing it? You need to do that at the end anyway, and you might end up taking out the parts that you spent so long rewriting.
Ask me, I know. When I don’t know what to write next or how to write it, I reread what I’ve already written. That doesn’t help me get more words down, it just wastes my time. It’s better to know what you’re going to say before you change how you say it.
Participating in NaNoWriMo last year helped me out a lot with this, as it pushes you to write as many words as you can as quickly as possible, but if you’re not a NaNoWrimer, these 7 tips will help you stop editing as you write.
1. Get over your writing
The first thing you should do is accept that things don’t always come out spectacularly the first time you do them. The better you know this, the less likely you’ll be to spend your precious writing time going back and rewriting sentences you don’t like.
I’m terrible at writing fiction if I don’t know what I’m writing about. I mean, check this out:
After opening the heavy door of the building and seeing what was inside, Avery stopped in the doorway. The hall was crowded, but not like the way the Navs hall was crowded on a meeting day. Most of the people here were laying down and there were so many of them that there was hardly any bare ground on the floor for the people who were walking around to put their feet.
This passage of my WIP has errors and sounds like crap because I had no idea what Avery was going to see when she stepped inside the building. This is my first draft, and now I know what Avery sees when she steps inside the building. This is also nowhere near the end of the story, so rather than fixing it now, I’ll finish my first draft and rewrite this terrible paragraph when I write my second draft. I might even take out this whole scene. Who knows? I haven’t finished my story yet. Why edit this scene if I don’t even know if it’s permanent?
2. Hide your writing
You can’t edit it if you can’t see it.
Those who are slightly more disciplined can use a white font on a white background or switch their monitor off. If it’s too easy for you to highlight your text and change its colour or lean forward and switch your monitor back on, a site like Blind Write is excellent. First, you enter a topic. Then, you choose how long you want to write for. Then, you write.
This app is wonderful because it keeps your topic front and centre (well, top and left) so that you never forget what you’re writing about and can stay on topic. When you write, the app blurs the text so you can’t see what you’ve written. You have no choice but to get all your ideas down before you can revise and edit them. This is how you figure out what you’re going to say. When the time limit is up, the text will appear. Then you can work out how you’re going to say everything you’ve just said.
3. Dictate and transcribe your writing
You can’t edit it if you haven’t written it.
This isn’t one that would ever work for me because I’m a terrible speaker and the way I talk is not always the way I want my blog posts to sound. However, if you’re good at dictating your ideas, say your document (and record it, obviously). I’m not sure if there are any free apps that will transcribe your audio for you, but there are services that will do this for $1 to $2 a minute. I know of people who have done this before for e-books and, according to them, you can “write” several thousand words in ten minutes. Depending on how good you are at expressing yourself verbally, your text might not even need a whole lot of editing after it’s transcribed.
4. Don’t look at what you’ve already written
Like I said, I have a huge habit of, rather than editing as I write, reading the last paragraph when I don’t know what to say next. All the time. I just did it then.
While my problem is with rereading the last paragraph, some people reread a whole page or a whole scene when they don’t know what to write next. As if this is going to help. You already know what you’ve already written because you’ve already written it. Instead of writing a really long document in one file, what about copying the last paragraph of what you wrote on one day into a fresh document to start the next day? There’ll be less stuff to go back and edit as you write.
Being slightly more disciplined in this area (I’m going to reread paragraphs regardless, but I won’t reread pages), I use a different text colour every writing session so I know how far back I can start rereading before I need a good smack on the wrist. But I also use this method to keep track of how much I get written each session, which helps me work out and utilise my writing patterns.
5. Use brackets to make notes
This is my favourite thing ever and now I do it with everything: when you want to add something or go back and fix something, just put that note in square brackets and come back to it later. I have 67 bracketed notes in an 18k word WIP! And I’ve managed to write 18k notes in about 14 to 20 hours because I don’t go back and edit, I put my notes in brackets.
This is great for scene blocking too. Sometimes I’m more in the mood for figuring out my plot than I am for writing, so if I know what’s going to happen in a scene, I’ll just block it and move on to the next one, e.g. [AVERY SAYS GOODBYE TO HER DAD].
And it’s great for when you’ve forgotten a word and don’t want to spend hours on thesaurus.com, e.g. ‘What is it?’ said[MORE URGENT WORD] STENNA2.0, rushing forward after Avery cried out.
6. Only plan the important stuff
You might have noticed in my last example that one of my characters is named STENNA2.0 and thought it odd. Like brackets, I make use of caps when I don’t know something, like a character’s name. This particular character is associated with another named Stenna but I don’t know her name, so I’ll call her STENNA2.0 until I’ve worked out what her name is. I didn’t plan for this character to appear so her name wasn’t in my outlining.
I also have a creature inspired by the extinct family Amphicyonidae, colloquially known as “bear dogs”. The fictional name of this species isn’t important to my plot, so I didn’t plan it. For now, I’m calling them BEARDOGS until I have my plot worked out and can write my second draft. This gives me more time to write, as I don’t have to spend as much time planning.
7. Reward or punish yourself
I reward myself anyway. If I get an acceptable amount of story work done in a couple of hours on a weekend, I’ll reward myself with a disproportionate amount of time playing video games. If that kind of system works for you, set up a goal for an amount of words to be written or time to be spent writing before you can go back and edit. If you succeed, reward yourself and set a more difficult goal next time.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Write or Die. Set your desired word count, set your writing time, set it to kamikaze mode, then start writing. If you don’t hit your word count in the time limit, the app will start deleting your words!
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