Over the weekend, a couple of places talked about the worst writing advice anyone had been given. “Show, don’t tell” is one most experienced writers agree needs to go on a short hiatus. Others wanted to see the adverb jihad go away as it’s usually the worst offenders complaining the loudest. All agreed that any rule beginning with “Always…” or “Never…” needs to be tossed out and ignored.
One struck me, though. “Never edit as you write. Wait until the draft is done.”
There’s a reason editors and experienced writers give that advice to novice writers. Ever meet someone working on their first novel or short story who can’t get around the fact they rewrote the same paragraph sixteen times? That’s why.
We make fun of your/you’re mistakes, but those are the least visible. I know. I just found out I’ve had a book out for five years with a couple of glaring ones. (Why you should wait a month and proofread or get someone to do it for you before hitting publish.) Does it not make sense to zap that before you close up shop for the day and get on with your life?
One person complained that the advice was useless. They wrote how they wrote, and they edited on the fly. I also noticed this person had quite a few short story credits and a couple of novels under their belt. You learn as you go. They had gone a long way.
I took this advice early on. And the editor of the Jim Winter novels Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods called me out on it. Not because I waited to self-edit. Because it let stupid mistakes through. So, I developed a more pragmatic method: If you see something, edit something.
As with anything, the answer to this question is, “It depends.” No two writers write the same. The rules can be confusing and contradictory. When you work with an editor, figure out the ground rules ahead of time. Do you use an Oxford comma? (If you’re paying me, I will hide my sneer of judgment if you don’t.) Dialog heavy vs. lots of narrative? And do you really want a dev edit or just copy editing? Or even a proofread?
As for writing that first draft, you’re the one who has to go back and revise it before your editor, publisher, or even beta reader sees it. Some writers, like the late, great Philip Roth don’t move to the next page until they think it’s perfect. Phil could go years between novels. You’re not Philip Roth. Others fly through a draft, zapping errors as they spot them. It takes two seconds. But then they don’t do a lot of revision, counting on their editor or publisher to flag it. After all, if they’re going trad or semi-trad, the editor and/or publisher are the client. Let them beat it into final shape.