Writing An Ugly First Draft vs. Editing As You Go


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Writing an ugly first draft versus editing as you go? It’s a question all writers struggle with.

This is a fitting topic since we are smack dab in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo, and since I haven’t weighed in yet, I’d like to do that now. Keep in mind that every writer has their own process, and every writer must do what works best for him or her. Although I am throwing my opinion out into the universe, that’s all it is. It’s just what works best with my process and how I work as a writer. But if this helps a fellow writer, then that’s great too.

Writing an ugly first draft is, for me, the way to go. I’ve got a few Camp NaNoWriMos under my belt, and the mentality of getting a certain number of words written in thirty days jives with how I work. Why? The hardest part, at least for me, is sitting down and getting the words out. During NaNoWriMo (held every November) or Camp NaNoWriMo (held every April and July), the idea is just to get the words out and onto the paper or the screen. That’s it!

This itty-bitty quote sums up writing the first draft nicely:

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

-James Thurber-

If you endeavor to write 50,000 words (or however many you choose) in thirty days, they don’t all have to be perfect. And the reason for that is summed up nicely by this quote:

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

Jodi Picoult-

And really, who has the time to write a “perfect” novel in thirty days? It’s just not possible! But you can always go back and make it better. When you have the “bare bones” of your novel, you can then take all the time you need to get it just right.

And that’s what works best for me. I write my first drafts quickly and then take much more time revising and editing. Way more!

Now having said that, I admit that I “kinda” edit as I go along. I can’t stand a ton of typos staring back at me while I’m actively trying to write. It distracts me. And what if some typos are so bad that later when I go back to revise, I have no idea what I was trying to say? Luckily, I have Grammarly to catch typos, and what’s even better is that it only takes a click to correct them! Of course, Grammarly detects way more than typos, but I ignore those other things until I’m done with the first draft. Seriously, if you don’t have Grammarly, get it! Get. It. Now!

Keeping my inner editor at bay is difficult when I’m trying to bang out a first draft. I want to fix things like grammar issues on the spot, or I want to ponder over a plot point. I have yell to my inner editor to mind her business and press on. I will stop to make notes, either right in the document itself or in my writer’s notebook, about things I need to go back and fix later. For instance, the other day during my writing session, a character is mentioned briefly, and her mention has something to do with the past. The character herself is not an important part of the passage, but a holiday tradition that she started is important. I didn’t want to break my writing stride, so I used brackets to remind myself to go back and fix it later. I typed [female name] and kept on writing. I must use tricks like this to stay on task and get the words written! I might not love every word that I write, and yes, many things need to be fixed after the fact, and I’m okay with that. Editing at the same time as I write just slows me down too much!

I have gotten so much better over the last couple of years at getting first drafts written while trying to keep my inner editor from slowing me down. It didn’t come naturally for me, I had to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. Thankfully, I’ve met a lot of fellow writers through local groups and writing conferences and have picked up some great tips such as the one I mentioned above. Always keep your ears open for sage advice! And not necessarily just about writing!

So, that’s what works for me. Getting the first draft finished is most of the battle. You can’t perfect a manuscript if it’s unfinished or if it’s unwritten. So get those first drafts written, in whatever way works for you! In fact, that’s probably good life advice. Just get it done, in whatever way works for you!

10 thoughts on “Writing An Ugly First Draft vs. Editing As You Go

  1. I enjoyed reading your article about writing an “ugly” draft or possibly editing as you go. I think I’m with you…write it “ugly” while ideas are flowing through your mind. Then go back to edit when you’re thinking more technically and less creatively.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing! When I’m writing, I always have to battle with myself about going back and reading prior pages/chapters and tweaking. But pushing through is really the way to just get ideas on paper, as long as you commit to working through the draft later with your editor/re-writing cap on.

    Are you participating in NaNoWriMo too?


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