I’m on this topic as I face a writer’s temptation, and to succumb to these snares sends one to the purgatory of a special kind of writer’s block. I write at a speed of approximately one chapter a night. Sometimes it’s more, often it’s less, but at a point I run into a wall and can’t move forward. At this point I take pleasure in the finer things in life, since I’ve already cleaned the house as an excuse not to write.

When I get closer to finishing, I do not appreciate this open space. I want to write all the time, dedicating every waking minute not at work to my literary pursuits, so there is now the temptation to edit. I want to print it out and start editing and fixing plot holes once I hit that wall of productive writing.

Often times, people don’t get this far without editing. I had someone tell me you’re to write three chapters, then go back and edit them. Write another two chapters and edit all five. This is going to be great in making sure everything is put together in a solid manner. It will also take you a decade to finish a book.

For those who like going back and editing what is there, some of you are very capable. I have a friend who goes back and rereads what she wrote the other day (a very good practice), and does minor grammar fixes and that’s it. She has amazing willpower. Here is my problem, and the problem with many others who go back and edit. You see all of the errors, the clunky dialogue, the plot hole you dug, and you freeze. Your eyes go wide, you start to freak out, and you go into perfectionist mode.

Editing (and eating) is a dangerous game, Mr. Archer.
Editing (and eating) is a dangerous game, Mr. Archer. And is that a bottle of wine?! I don’t remember it, I swear, but it does help with the self doubt of editing. Not the grammar, though.

Instead of writing that day, you go back and completely edit everything done. You edit it again and again, pull out your hair, and when baldness has nearly taken root, you throw out the manuscript and swear never to write again. While returning to the beginning once finished will still surely put you in a funk, the book is finished. It just needs refining. Better to finish and refine, than to refine as if to finish.

While this advice may not work for all of you, I am betting the vast majority has hit this block. I will roll the dice that several have reached a point where they thought it would be fun to edit, only to enter a Twilight Zone which disbanded any courage to finish the story. If you have found you are one of those people, heed these warnings. While I highly suggest reading a few paragraphs from the previous writing session, do not sit down with the intent to edit until the final words are kindly placed upon the document. That negative inner editor will hate you, but that part of you who always wanted to finish a novel will hug you until you feel smothered.

Happy writing!

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15 thoughts on “Defeating Writer’s Block 3: Do Not Edit

  1. Interesting – I am almost the opposite. While I have written nothing but academic stuff and reports, I find that I need to let what I have written sit for at least a week before I can go back and see it objectively. Before that I see what I intended to write, not the words on the page. My brain fills in just as it does with music. Somehow this is worse for me on the computer screen than on paper – probably because of my age. My first computer was an Apple IIe with a CPM card and dual disk drives and I used WordStar 1.1 to write my dissertation. For any cmputer history geek that dates me!

    1. That’s often the case, and I should be doing that as well. The week of rest is suggested for any writer. The first computer I used was an Apple GII, I believe. But now that I Google it, the monitor isn’t large enough, let alone the body of it. Anyway, happy academic writing! Thanks for sharing and even sharing your approximate age 😛

      1. I’m trying to. haha Writing short stories does seem to be helping a bit. It gets my brain moving forward. The problem is, the first draft of my book is done, but I wrote it before I learned much of what I now know of writing. Thus, as I’m going back through it, it’s like writing a whole new book. That means I have to edit a lot, as well as add new content. It’s an odd spot to be in. haha

        1. I’ve been there and done that. It really does feel like you’re rewriting, with so much ink on the page that you can barely see what was originally written. Good luck. My response to that was to completely trash the old and write a new ms, using the previous as a guideline to the new ms.

  2. So true. I used to get caught on editing all the time, and I was drowning in unfinished manuscripts. I practically had to close my eyes and write before I could get past the editing mode and finish the story. Great advice!

  3. I have finished the book; however I am finding it difficult to edit it. I thought about dropping this book and stating on another, but what good would that do because when I complete the next book it may be the same issue. I was given some advice to edit the book, but starting from where the action begins, but then I still have the chapters before a few I could probably get by without using. I have several unfinished books, but I am not motivated to complete any of them because I can’t seem to get passed the blank space in my head that was once filled with ideas for my novels.

    1. First, take heart. My first novel I finished writing was 100k words. After editing three times, throwing the idea around for a while, and casting myself into the well of despair, I threw out the entire thing. I said this isn’t getting published, and moved on.

      As for editing, it’s challenging. It’s the hard part, and often times the boring part. I would find a method which works for you. It looks like I’m writing a research paper when I do my edits, and I enjoy that. There’s something about hundreds of pages scattered around for me to roll in that just feels nice. So keep at it! You can do it! Thanks for the comment! 😀

      1. Hey Paul…I have decided to put the book that is finished aside and move on to the next one I have started…I have 3 chips completed but I’m going start over and do an outline of the first 4 or 5 chps and see how that goes.

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