Editing: Grammar is for 2nd Drafts

This article has arisen from discussions I had recently at a writer’s group I attend.  The question came up about editing and when to do it.  Should you write a section, then edit it before moving on?

No.  No.  If you do that, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.


Write.  Just that.

Look, all writers are anal-retentive.  We love to go back and fix things, we love to just rewrite the shit out of everything.  We obsess about word placement, diction, sentence structure, grammar, even fonts and margins and line spacing and-

Shut up and write your goddamned story.

I can be harsh like that for two reasons:

  1. I used to do all of those things myself.
  2. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I please.

See, I used to do what I call “editing on the fly” — going back and reworking material I had just written — and it was the worst thing I could possibly have done.  Seriously.  It killed my productivity more than Arkham Asylum and all three Mass Effect games combined, because when you’re rewriting/editing you are not moving forward.  And if you’re not moving forward, what are you doing?  Well, you’re either standing still, moving sideways or, worst of all, moving backward.

Writing is not NASCAR.  You cannot drive in circles all day and still win.

Like I said above, I used to edit on the fly all the time.  And guess what?  During that time, the number of novels I finished was exactly equal to the number of supermodels I had sex with.  None.  I was getting so bogged down in getting everything “perfect” (in quotations to highlight the impossibility) that I was driving in circles.  I’d spend weeks editing and rewriting the same fifteen pages and wonder why, after three months, I’d made such minimal progress.  Not only that, but I’d lose the head of steam you can build up when you’re getting fresh work onto paper (or screen, more likely).


Grammar is for Second Drafts

I’m being a little glib with the title, but it’s mostly true.  Yes, it’s important to write sentences that make sense, but the whole point of a first draft is to just tell your story.  Get it all out onto paper, finish it.  Do not sit there rereading your most recent sentence wondering if your comma is in the right place.  Your comma is not going anywhere — it will wait for you.  Once you have slapped down that last period and finished this labour of love/hate, go have a glass of Scotch or two and then leave the damn thing alone for at least two weeks.

Then you start editing.

Until you get to that point, do not go back and edit.  Do not.  Please.  It really accomplished nothing.  I know what you’ll say — some variation of:

  • I’m doing it now while it’s fresh in my mind
  • I’m doing it now to save myself time in the second draft

Editing while it’s fresh in your mind is a bad idea.  It’s only when you have some distance between you and the work that you can look at it with fresh eyes and edit more objectively.  And guess what?  You won’t ever get to your second draft unless you write new material.

I know the material you’ve already written is a nice, comfortable warm blanket in which you can wrap yourself and have a nice nap on a cold winter’s day.  The material you haven’t yet written is a dark and scary place, full of gnarled trees and fog and the distant howling of wolves.

No one ever accomplished anything napping on their couch — go buy a bloody flashlight and head into the forest.

And finish your project before editing it.



I didn’t edit this article.  Grammar is for second drafts, not blogs.