Ask the question in a writing group, and almost everyone will tell you not to worry about grammar or structure or even sentence flow as you write—to instead just get the story out on paper. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, but you can always go back and fix what you’ve written later. While that may be true to some extent—it is always better to have something to work with rather than stare at a blank page all day trying to figure out the best way to word that first sentence—that doesn’t mean all knowledge of grammar and the rules of the English language go out the window. In this article, I’ll be listing a few reasons why you SHOULD edit as you go, and why it’s what’s worked for me every time and has made the editing process much, much simpler.
One of the most important reasons that editing as I go is not only helpful but necessary is the fact that it saves so much time in the long run. I always make it a point, each day I get out my WIP, to start by reading the previous scene. This helps put my mind back in the world of elementals and shadow-wielders, and it helps me keep things consistent from scene to scene. But it also helps me catch any mistakes I’d made the night before. With fresh eyes, I’m much more likely to look at it with condemnation—with an editor’s eye versus a writer’s. If I ignore these mistakes and just keep writing, telling myself I will catch them all next month when I go back for the editing phase, I may not catch the same mistakes I could catch today. And if I wait and edit it all at once, it’s going to take a lot longer and quite a few more rounds of editing before I stop finding errors every time I read through it.
Editing an entire manuscript is tedious and often-times intimidating when you’re a new writer. If the whole thing is littered with errors, the idea can bog you down and make you feel like your writing is worthless. There are so many great stories that never see the light of day, and one thing I am always hearing in various writing groups I’m a part of is that when new writers go back and read what they’ve written, they think it’s awful and want to scrap it and start over. The idea of editing all that—something they probably spent months writing—is too much for them. They don’t feel like it’s possible or worth the time to polish it into something they can be proud of. That’s why rereading and polishing short pieces as you go can ease your work-load tremendously and help reduce the chance of abandoning ship later.
One thing I also often hear when people ask if they should bother themselves with editing as they go: “that’s what editors are for”. Imagine you hired a maid to clean your house top to bottom for a party you were throwing. She’s one of the best. She comes with glowing recommendations. Her prices are reasonable. But because you knew a maid would clean up after you, you left dishes all over the counters, you spilled cereal all over the floor, you let your kid destroy the living room, and you didn’t bother to clean any of it because you knew the maid was coming and she would handle it all. After all, she’s great at what she does—you’re paying her for that very job.
But she’s human, and she has to adhere to the rules of time and the limitations of exhaustion just like everyone else. She spends all her time cleaning up the little messes that you left out of carelessness and never gets to the big stuff. She works overtime to get the job done as she had promised, but the day ends and the party starts. While it may be decent—she managed to clean up all the glaring distractions, put away all the toys, do the dishes, and wipe the counters—you hear some of the guests note that things could have been nicer. You hear them point out things she missed.
As an editor, I’ll be the first to tell you that while we love to catch errors and play a crucial part in making your story the best version of itself, we can’t work on the big problems you hired us for if we’re too busy editing all the little errors you knowingly left for us. Editors are often underpaid and we usually work overtime, going over your story again and again to catch everything we can and point out developmental issues, character inconsistencies, etc. But if you have a certain timeline you need the work delivered by, it will be difficult to catch everything if it’s a complete mess when we receive it.
This brings me to my next reason for editing as you go: protecting the integrity of the story. If you respect the story you’re writing, why let it start out as a sloppy mess and stay that way for most of its infancy? Don’t get overwhelmed with perfectionism, but definitely respect your story enough to fix the spelling error you caught as you skimmed over a passage. My main point is: don’t stop yourself from fixing something you see because others have convinced you that you’ll never get that rough draft written if you get distracted by all the errors. They’re right to an extent. Definitely don’t let the mistakes discourage you. Everyone makes them. Even editors need to edit over and over again, whether it’s their own project or someone else’s.
I just received feedback from an author of a novel I recently edited, and even though he was extremely impressed by how I edited and said I changed his opinion of editors forever, he still mentioned that they found errors I missed. His next statement was that you can never get something completely error-free. That reminded me of something else an old friend once said to me when I first told him I wanted to be a writer. He said, “Writing is never perfect.” It can’t be. No matter what you do, how you write it, there’s always a better way it could have been written. There’s always an error you missed or someone else who could have done it better. Writing is subjective. So always remember to do the best you can for your story and give it the quality it deserves, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes either. As with most things in life, a healthy balance is always the right answer.
Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.
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