Everyone writes differently. I’ve read about authors who write a first draft in two months and spend two years editing it. I’ve read about authors who edit constantly, taking years to complete a single novel, but when they write the last word, it’s a clean, finished, edited draft. And of course, there are all of us in between. Everyone has a different write/edit balance. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the balance you’re in right now is the ideal one for you.
too much “write”
Writing is important, don’t get me wrong. You need to crank out material, or you won’t have anything to work with. But don’t fall into the trap of believing any of these harmful ideas about writing v. editing:
- If I edit my work, it won’t be pure. There are a lot of variations of this concept, and all of them are stupid. Writing comes from your brain, your heart, your soul, and is an intimate thing, but editing doesn’t destroy that. In fact, it enhances it. Time spent editing is as close as you can get to a piece of writing. If you aren’t giving your writing a thoughtful, detailed edit, you’re neglecting it.
- It isn’t good enough to be worth editing. It’s easy to finish a first draft and feel that way. But a first draft isn’t supposed to be perfect yet. All a draft needs is potential. Editing is what will take it from mediocre (or even bad) to excellent. If you started writing it, the idea sounded good to you at some point. Don’t forget about that initial enthusiasm!
- I’m bored with this idea. This is sort of like being in love: It’s thrilling up-front, but once things start needing work, it can be easiest to back out — even if the reward for your hard work could be incredible. Don’t throw in the towel just because things have started to get difficult. It’s only by working through the rough stuff that you get the real rewards.
Editing is just as important to the writing process as the writing itself. I spent many years cranking out first drafts and then leaving them to rot. I can verify, firsthand, that this method is not going to make you successful. If your write/edit balance is heavy on the “write” end, focus on learning how to beef up the “edit” side.
too much “edit”
Of course, you can just as easily suffer from the other side: too much “edit” on your write/edit teeter-totter. This comes in multiple forms:
- I can’t keep writing until what I’ve already written is perfect. This is a trap that will prevent you from ever completing a piece. Any writer will tell you that a piece is never “perfect.” There is a point at which you become comfortable showing work to people, and eventually some of those people are editors, publishers, and agents… but I have yet to meet a writer who reflects on a past work and can solidly say, “that’s finished.” And even more importantly, by the time you reach the end of a piece, sometimes the intent has changed and earlier pieces need to be removed or rewritten. Don’t waste your time perfecting something you might not even end up including.
- I can’t write any new pieces; I’m working on this one. It’s totally okay to work on one piece at a time, and it’s totally okay to work on lots. But as I mentioned in the point above, it can be near impossible to declare a piece “finished,” and if you dwell on a single piece forever, you’ll never produce anything new.
My write/edit balance was really skewed over the last year or two. It got to the point where last year, I didn’t produce a single complete new work. Not one. There’s no way that balance is healthy for me as a writer, so I’m working to change it.
If you think your write/edit balance is off, try something new to push yourself to change. For me, I’m adding some weight to the “write” side by making it my goal to submit to an online literary journal or contest once a month for the whole year — each time with pieces written specifically for that purpose.
How’s your write/edit balance? Where do you think you need improvement — and what are you going to do to enact it? Let’s discuss in the comments!