I heard from a new author at a writer's forum the other day. He wanted to know how often I edit my writing. This one was like shooting ducks in a barrel, although I'm sure it wasn't the answer he had anticipated:
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Good question. Weird answer. Are you ready for it? Sitting down? Seat belts fastened? Wait for it … wait for it …
I edit my work continuously. By that I mean I write a certain amount—maybe a few thousand words or maybe a few hundred. Then, I go back to check out what I've written and make whatever obvious corrections/improvements are necessary. I continue that way until I'm finished creating for that writing session, at which point I go back to the beginning of that day's work and read through it, start to finish, editing again as I go.
When I've finished that, I take a break. This is a very important step in writing as well as editing. The human brain can assimilate only so much at a time. By taking a break from the work, I'm actually resetting my brain's attention span back to 100 percent availability.
How long of a break do I suggest? That varies. New writers or inexperienced scribes should probably take anywhere from a day or two to a week before returning to the scene of their crimes. Experienced writers can do so a lot sooner. I have trained myself so that, once I walk away from something I've written, I can be refreshed and ready to go again in as little time as it takes to get up and grab a cup of coffee. Seriously.
And, I work this way no matter what I'm writing. Novels, nonfiction books, articles, e-mails—it doesn't change. For me, going back to review after I've written a certain number of words is another way for me to "reset" my brain. In the span of writing this short response to your question, for example, I stopped writing with the previous sentence and went back over what I'd written to that point twice, making eight edits or changes as I did. From there, I picked up writing again.
Generally, once I get to a point in my writing/editing routine where I'm satisfied, I walk away for ten minutes or longer before returning to read it again from the start, providing a new round of edits as I go. I do four or five "final" read-throughs or more after I have completed all I intend to write during that session, concentrating on making those edits that will create a stronger, tighter, more readable and enjoyable piece.
By the way, no, I don't find that interrupting my writing with continual editing breaks slows me down or stifles my creativity. Nor does doing so throw my concentration off track. Just the opposite, By taking a series of short editing "breaks" throughout my writing session, I find that, when I do return to pick up writing where I left off, I can approach the subject with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. Oh, yeah, and direction.
In the end, I average writing/editing probably four-to-six thousand words a day, depending upon whether or not research is involved. (So much for the argument that breaking your concentration will diminish your output!)
Not all writers work this way, of course, nor should they. Each writer must choose an approach that's most productive for him. I think I've chosen this routine (actually fallen into it) because I'm both a professionally trained author and a professional book, magazine, and newspaper editor. I love to edit—both my work and the works of other authors—so, for me, the two work hand-in-glove.
Make sense? I hope so. And I hope these insights prove beneficial to your own writing process. If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to contact me at my Website, and I'll be happy to help if I can. Until then …
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)