Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Edit as You Go

Now that I'm working on shorter projects for my copywriting and ghost gigs lately I've begun editing my work a bit differently. Since many of you are interested in editing discussion, and I like how it's working out so much, I thought I'd share what I've changed to see if it might help any of you.

To give you the short version of my standard editing process, I write new material, perform a quick, one-pass edit on it on the same day, and then wait until I've finished the entire project before I perform another, more intensive three-stage edit of the complete work.

The reasons for this approach are: a) it allows me to write forward at a steady pace instead of endlessly backtracking over the work, b) it evolved naturally over thirty years of writing fiction under deadlines, and helps me keep them, and C) the writer me and the editor me pretty much hate each other, so not allowing them to work together prevents chaos, doubt, fear, and sometimes all-out war (and yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but these two sides of my personality want to be in constant conflict, so keeping them separated as much as possible is imperative.) I also usually have at least three months to write a novel, so I save the final weeks for the intensive editing of the complete work.

When I began copywriting I had to say good-bye to that luxury of time; at present my longest deadline is one week after I receive an assignment. Since it can take me the entire seven days to finish the project, I had to change the way I edit to an as-you-go process, which works for me like this:

First day: Write new material and one-pass edit for spelling and grammar immediately when I finish.

Second day: Edit the previous day's material for content and style, write new material, perform another one-pass edit on the entire work.

Third through Sixth day: repeat what I did on the first and second day (I also try to finish the writing by the sixth day.)

Seventh day: Finish writing the project (if needed) and perform a final intensive edit on the complete work.

At first I didn't like starting out a writing session with editing; I really do prefer to write first and edit second. But the time limitations of my assignments have put my internal editor on a very short leash; I know I have only a week to get the work done so I don't indulge in internal creative clashes. Thus I think having a deadline is integral to making this approach work, so if you're using it on something for which you don't have a deadline, set one for yourself first and stick to it.

The other drawback to this method is the daily backtracking over previous work, which can tempt you to fall into a backtrack and rewrite loop that prevents you from producing new words. If that's an issue for you, I recommend always writing first no matter what day you're on, then hit the editing phase only after you've reached your goal for new words.


  1. For your copy writing, how long is each week long assignment? So how many words a day are you writing and editing?

    I know right now I'm doing rough draft races, and getting a stack of very, very (did I mention very) rough drafts done, then I'll go back and flesh them out and make them into something I can start having a beta look at, but I'm only managing about 1 rough every month. Granted I work full time and what not, but I'm curious as to how fast you can get yours out.

  2. My assignment lengths average 7-10K in total, Melisa, and I work on three or four a day, so I'm writing anywhere from 3-5K of new material per day and editing twice that (half one-pass, half intensive.) It's a lot, so I do get assignments done quickly, but I don't recommend it as a starting quota for anyone.

  3. I unconsciously edit as I type (mainly because I make a lot of mistakes), but for the most part, I write the whole thing and then edit after. Which is probably why I have so many unedited manuscripts. And why I've spent the past six months pretty much editing - trying to get books cleaned up so I can publish them myself.

    I love these posts with an insight into how you write, Lynn. I'm always interested in seeing other people's processes. =oo)

  4. Thanks for posting these kinds of details. It is definitely helpful for figuring out my own systems!