How to Edit While You Write: 3 Tips on Balancing Progress with Perfectionism


It’s a popular commandment: Thou shalt NOT edit while you write!

But rules are made to be broken, right? Some folks spend an enormous amount of time upfront on their “editing” efforts, tweaking each sentence as they go, looking back while feeling forwards; they may make slow progress, but by the time they’ve put that last word on the last page, their “first” draft is almost finished!

For other folks it’s better to plough through to the end. Maintaining momentum is key, lest the real-time editing process leave them bogged down in doubt or distraction.

Here are some tips for those of you who want to try an approach that’s somewhere in between the two extremes.

1) Editing IS writing- 

It may help to take your cue from the poetry world– where we’re often taught that there is no difference between writing and revision; both are acts of discovery, expression, and decision-making.

Adopt the mindset that editing (or that friendlier word- “revision”) could be the very thing that frees your writing.

For instance, let’s imagine that you’ve gotten your two main characters into a tense situation, but when you look back over the previous chapters you begin to realize that their reasons for ending up there are somewhat unbelievable. Most writing advice out there would encourage you to push on through to the end, and THEN go back and invent some more believable rationale for your characters’ decisions.

But what if you stopped dead in your tracks and tried to really discover something new about your characters? The more deeply you know those characters, the better your readers will know them too. So go back and invent those reasons NOW! It could cause your plot to unfold in an entirely different way.

2) Follow the blueprint- 

Think about the architecture of your book first. Draw up a detailed plan or outline. Know the structure before you begin. Make a list of all the important characters, along with their attributes/appearances/and the purpose they serve in the narrative.

Once you’ve constructed the basic skeleton, you’ll be able to better tell if the meat is sticking to the bones; you’ll have the energy, inspiration, and freedom to revise things at the sentence level as you go.

3) Spend 50% of your time revising-

If you really want to strike a balance between progress and perfectionism, begin each writing session by going back over your previous day’s work. Set a timer. Revise! Once the buzzer rings, you can decide if it’d be more beneficial for you to continue editing or to press onwards. If you decide to keep revising, don’t beat yourself up; the more time you spend revising today, the more time you’ll have tomorrow for writing down the next few pages of brand new material.


As with most creative endeavors, there’s no good reason to be dogmatic about things. Try a few different approaches and see what works for you. And don’t be surprised if your methods need to change over time.

So, do you edit during the writing process? Do you wait until your first draft is complete? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Feel free to comment in the section below.

-Chris R. at BookBaby

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Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."



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