Editing while writing: good or bad? Most of us are told to write it all down and then edit to avoid getting stuck in one place. To me, it’s like hiking that way because you plan to go down one specific trail. You have the map, supplies, everything for this trail and this trail only. Sure, you may see other paths along the way. Some might look more appealing, and you may think about backtracking to try one out. The problem is you don’t want to get lost. If you spend too much time on one path, you might not find your way back to the original one. Or you might get distracted and linger too long on one trail to a point where you’re no longer headed anywhere. Then it’s night, you’re lost, a wolf may or may not have just howled nearby, and your story is trapped in a purgatory where it will never be finished.
The last part of that scenario is why people avoid editing during the writing process. No one wants to get lost, but remaining on a path you don’t like can also damage a story. In my experience, editing while writing isn’t always harmful. If I didn’t edit chapters or scenes, I would have kept going down a beaten path instead of exploring uncharted territory.
I don’t write like a normal person. I open a blank Word document and just go with whatever idea is running through my head. There’s never an outline, I just write and see where it goes. This technique works for me, but I do come to stand stills within my work. There are moments where I’m not sure what should come next or the story is heading into a place that I have no interest in visiting. At times like this I go back to read through what I’ve already written so I can edit what I feel needs to be edited.
In my current project there was a scene I loathed entirely. I had trouble getting through the next few chapters because I kept thinking of this one section that was gnawing at me. So I went back, read through from the beginning, highlighted the infamous scene, and deleted it. Then I rewrote it, still hated it, and wrote it a third time. It ended up becoming something entirely different that actually set up the rest of what I had in a much cleaner fashion. This also made the writing process less frustrating, which is always a bonus.
Through this process I have a better understanding of where my story is rooted, and I often remember details that can be lifesavers in terms of character development and plot. It’s fine to keep yourself on one trail, but sometimes the one you start with isn’t the one you want to stay on. The hiking experience is more rewarding when you allow yourself some exploration. Those alternative paths can lead to amazing views that can be missed if you wait too long.