For a person who discovers their talent with writing, the pure joy of witnessing thoughts blossom into words on a page that can be shared with everyone is often astounding. Many realize, My God, this is fun––and it reads well too. Why didn’t I start writing sooner? But not all writers hold their literary proficiency in such high esteem. Those that deem to actively pursue writing also determine that their newfound amusement equates to work. One common dilemma budding authors may find themselves head-butting is: Which is more important, writing or editing?
Obviously, without writing there is nothing to edit. But does that mean fine-tuning each piece along the way holds less merit? I don’t think so. My theory on writing without companion editing compares to visiting an auto dealership in pursuit of a brand new car and signing on the dotted line without negotiation. A parallel car-shopping (writing) scenario that might unravel like this:
1) You arrive at the showroom unnoticed (A story buzzes in your head).
2) You spot your dream car and imagine the pleasures of sitting behind the wheel (The plot unfolds as your fingers flash across the keyboard like the Millennium Falcon in hyper-drive).
3) A look inside reveals the glitz and techno-gimmicks (All the quirky characters arrive).
4) The window sticker lists all the bells and whistles (Catchy details, along with unexpected twists emerge).
5) You’re sold (You’ve breezed through your project to completion).
6) Then the price tag comes into focus (You read the manuscript).
7) “Yikes, this sucks!” (Geez! Sure wish I’d been editing along the way!)
Not all writers’ literary car-buying experiences (techniques) are the same––nor should they be. My mentor always advised: Write first! Edit last! She is not the only award-winning author to profess the mantra that preaches reaching THE END without distraction is most important. A construct the house, then add the crown molding or change the paint kind of wisdom. Who can argue that logic?
I have always tried to heed my mentor’s advice, and have passed much of her instruction on to other blossoming scribes. Still, I can’t seem to jump from one page to the next without ensuring my overactive imagination didn’t sidetrack my determination to get it right. Similar to the measure twice, cut once principle most carpenters use, my erudite diddling helps. Characters are more thoroughly developed, with a clearer picture of who they are, what they’re doing, how they relate to the plot, and how they’ll resolve the conflict. Typos and grammar goofs become more obvious. Questions posed with each interruption are researched and answered. My mental traffic cop waves me on and I proceed, prepared for new scenery and excitement around the next curve.
Okay, back to the initial inquiry. Which is the best approach: writing first and editing last, or editing while writing? Who’s the smarter scribe?
Truth be told, most writers who say their primary objective is completing the tale also dabble in editing as they write. They may disguise that deed as a “revision”, but that’s merely mincing words. How can a serious writer not concern themselves with the finished product––the edited version? In that respect, every writer becomes an editor. The good news: the more you write, the more you learn about the craft. The better you write, the less editing is required. The two work hand in hand.
Let’s face it, writing is a solitary task. Although writers may share some traits, we each develop unique techniques that work for us. When it comes to writing vs. editing, folks will endlessly propagate this chicken vs. egg style debate. Bottom-line: Write, write, write. Learn about and improve your craft. As long as your project reaches fruition, who cares what method you used to get it there? Whatever works, stick to it. Treat all your work as your best effort, but also realize that before publication, everything you write will be edited at least one more time.