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Breaking the Rules: Editing as You Write

There are lots of ways one could read “editing as you write,” some more acceptable than others, but what I’m talking about is stopping to edit previous chapters before the story’s end is written. The more you write the more rules you find are necessarily broken, but this is one I’m especially reluctant to break.

I restarted my writing efforts four years ago largely in part to Michael Stackpole’s “The Secret’s” podcast. One piece of advice he gave time and time again was “take notes, fix it later.” That was awesome advice to me at the time because I’d been world building for like four months, but couldn’t get past the second chapter of my story. I kept thinking if I went this direction, I’d have to go back first and pave the way in the first two chapters. It wasn’t until months later when NaNoWriMo happened, that I started a new story idea and wrote my first novel (by not going back and fixing earlier chapters).

So, have I gained so much wisdom that I can now go and break this cardinal rule?

Here’s why I went back: I’m on chapter six of a new novel, and I’ve got three characters in the car. I’m not happy with the dialogue, and I’m afraid the tone is becoming repetitive (i.e. I can’t trust you, so what am I going to do). I went back to the previous chapter and analyzed the scene where two of these people met. I broke down what was said considering what really happened and what this new character’s motivations are (lessons learned from my editorial letter from C.L. Dyck).

The result was a better idea of who this character is, more flushed out motivations, and new dialogue. Ultimately, I think I wrote a better scene, and at this stage in the novel I can’t afford to build on a boring foundation.

So, was this a mistake? I don’t think so. I’m not going all the way back to the beginning, but I couldn’t write the dialogue of the latest scene without knowing what was already said in the earlier scene.

I’m also at the point where people get stuck. I may need to relax my word count quota and brainstorm how I want this story to go. Do I want the zombie apocalypse to spread from here, or be contained? We’ll see. Also, this character either needs to make the story more exciting or I need to go back and find a different path without him.

This is fun, right?

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

3 comments on “Breaking the Rules: Editing as You Write

  1. Hey Tim, I don’t think this is a mistake. You are not routinely going back and editing each chapter, as you go. You were stuck, did not understand your character’s motivations, and went back to gain understanding. The slight rewrite of those couple scenes gave you better understanding of the character, and a stronger base to build on from there. Once you have cracked how to turn off the internal editor, and can finish a manuscript, I think that judicious editing can be okay.

    • I agree, and thanks for stopping by, Mike! After learning not to edit while writing, I’ve learned a few places where it makes sense. I think this is one. You have a good point about the importance of being able to turn off the internal editor. I’ve finished enough manuscripts to know that I can, so stopping once and a while to fix saves me time in the long run (I also have enough experience rewriting long stories to know it’s no fun!).

  2. […] Breaking the Rules: Editing as You Write (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

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