Creating vs Editing: a writer’s challenge

Context switching between writing and editing is often a challenge for me as a writer. When I’m in the creative flow, the words come easily, without hindrance. However, when I shift over to editing mode, to polish the words, the well seems to dry up. The hypercritical internal editor does not seem to be compatible with the internal novelist. I know, I know. It’s a little weird to call them out as separate characters, however, they’re so very different. They feel like different characters in a story.

It seems like the only way to balance the two ways of perceiving is to give them their own stage. For the most part, I am finding it useful to schedule my time month by month – a month of outlining and writing, followed by a month of editing and polishing. When I’ve tried switching between the two on the same day, neither the writing nor the editing seems to be any good. The editor is so very picky.

This is in addition to the more normal challenges of switching between being in work mode for my full-time job and carving out two hours a day to attend to the various aspects of being a writer.

At work, where I manage a team of designers, I context switch all day long. There are meetings, consultations, design work and planning sessions. Sometimes I’m thinking as a front-end web developer, which is very specific about the code and the alignment of every pixel. Sometimes, I find myself staying late at work, where I am already in the mode of looking at the details.

There’s a sweet spot at the beginning of the day, before work begins, when the world is new. That’s the time I find myself writing in my journal. It’s freeform, about the world I find myself in. Occasionally, I’ll finish up writing journal entries, and will find myself writing a scene from a book. During the month of November, when I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org – a challenge of 50K words in 30 days), I go into work at least an hour early each day to get the fresh time of day to write. My goal is around 750-1000 words for session one. I do another 750-1000 words in session 2 after dinner. However, during that month I don’t plan to do any editing.

Gradually, I was finding a rhythm, however, life events made it challenging to keep up. I was doing:

  • Early morning free-form writing for two months
  • Late day editing for a month
  • Back to free-form writing for a couple of months

After a six month hiatus, where nothing went according to plan, I am working out what my new writing rhythm looks like. Somewhere in there, I hope to create at least one blog post a week. Blog posts are short enough that those might fit the early morning time slot. Getting an editor (someone other than me) would also be a help. If I’m honest with myself, I like doing the developmental edit, and then the final edit at the end, polishing the commas. All the other steps in the middle are about as exciting as stirring a pot of oatmeal. That’s terrible of me to say, isn’t it? Still, other folks tell me they feel much the same way. One friend says he leaves a piece of work alone for six months after he’s done the first draft, giving it time to settle. That’s not an entirely bad idea, in my humble opinion.

For a while, I’m going to try breaking out of the month-long assignment of time. I’ll try outlining in the evenings and writing first thing in the morning for a week at a time. Then I’ll try a first pass on editing on a weekend afternoon. We’ll see how that rolls along. The advice I’ve read goes like this

  • Write at the same time every day
  • Write in the same place to establish a habit
  • Outline first, even if that’s just 40 sentences
  • Type fast – 60 words a minute becomes 3600 in an hour.
  • Do micro-sprints. Write for 20 or 25 minutes at a time. Many times a day.
  • Write without editing to keep up the pace
  • Edit what you did yesterday, then outline and write for today
  • Carve out at least 2 hours a day to write – 10 hours weekdays / 4 hours each day on weekends
  • Try a transcription app. Temi is great. For a couple dollars, you get quick transcripts from hands-free recordings. Car time is made productive.

What I’ve often said at work is, “There is only one thing, that being the work in the moment”. I need to remind myself to worry less about the task that is out of sight at the present.

I wonder if others have the similar issues in context switching between writing and editing? I’d love to hear tips and tricks others have found to level-up in writing and editing with complete focus on one or the other.

3 thoughts on “Creating vs Editing: a writer’s challenge

  1. I actually found the transition quit easy. The main thing is to forget about the story in a way, especially when ironing out the grammar, chronology or whatever else outwith the story.
    Doing that leaves me free to concentrate on editing 100%, I get in the zone and that lets me do editing without being caught up in too many mind games.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s interesting that you mention forgetting about the story. Am about to dive into a book I haven’t looked at in six months. It will be easier to start with an editing pass on this one because I’m not too close to it.

      Like

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