Lessons From Oleander–Beware of Premature Editing

Please don't kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Three years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic. Normally, oleander this size were $50 and $60 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

My last remaining oleander.

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage. Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, they generally don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the adverbs later ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

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  1. My writing teacher told me to put the first draft away for at least a month to six weeks before going back to revise. That is advice I stick to. We can take out too much or the wrong thing if we go back in too soon. I think it’s better to look at the story with fresh eyes after some time apart.

  2. E-yup; I write the entire novel before I start editing. If I am stuck, I may go back to the beginning and read, but I don’t allow myself to do extensive editing – a read through of what I have will spur off new thoughts or directions.

    Which is why I always, also, suggest people do not take their WIP to writer’s critique groups – it confuses and discombobulates the writer to have all those opinions so early on.

  3. Kristen,

    I used to edit and edit as I re-read each days work … until I finally realized that not much new writing was happening with this method!

    Now I use WriteWayPro software, which breaks the story into Acts, Chapters and Scenes. This helps shut my inner editor up on the first draft, as I see the empty chapters and scenes waiting to be filled. They practically jump up and down and wave at me. ‘Keep moving! My turn, my turn.’

    I agree with Emma, we should put the second draft away for a while, and let it gestate before going back. I like to show and then tell, so a little distance helps me see where I’ve beaten the reader over the head with information, lol.

    My problem is knowing when to stop, because I can keep editing a piece forever.

    Cathryn Cade

  4. Interesting idea. I may try it. I do edit, or my critique group helps me edit as I go and it’s taking me way too long to finish a historical fiction.

    I do believe in your comment: “Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined.” When I’m frustrated because LIFE keeps interfering with my writing time, I always wake up with a better way to do or change or say something I’ve already written or was about to write.

  5. If my first chapter isn’t solid, I’ll go back and rewrite it, especially if 200 pages in it’s nagging at me. But I always save everything I cut – if I’m cutting huge swaths, I’ll have a “deleted scenes” folder. And yes, sometimes I’ve retrieved stuff out of there and stuck it back in. But – when the story is working (which means, I prepped enough to get the plot solid before I start), I usually have no reason to edit overmuch.

    Great topic!

  6. Thanks for the tips. I do tend to edit as I go, and I know that is not the most efficient method. I like your first tip, but I may be too OCD for that.

  7. We discussed this very topic in the writing workshop I’m taking this term. Out of a dozen students there were only two who swear that they can’t bear to continue on without perfecting what is there first. Both of them take years to finish a novel length project.
    I’m just too impatient to get to the end of the story to write the first draft over a span of years. I like the fast draft idea and I’m trying something similar with my current WIP.
    The problem I have with editing too soon is that my critic HATES the way I’ve written everything. Her slash and burn method of editing sends my muse into emotional turmoil.
    Not everyone can use the same process for first drafts, but I think jumping in with the red pen and delete key too early could hamper your creative genius. In my world, it does.

    • lynnblackmar on January 28, 2013 at 8:52 am
    • Reply

    I’ve done both, and use sort of a middle method. Like Cathryn, I handle a lot of issues in the planning using Scrivener. I set up the outline and structure before I write, and I plan out the main characters and themes.

    As I have grown as a fiction writer, I have noticed that my ability to do certain things have greatly improved. For example, I was terrible at writing character reactions, and it would slow me down so much that I used to have a code of “smiles”, “frowns”, “fidgets”, etc and go back and add reactions in editing. I’ve gotten to the point where I can write most of those off the cuff now without slowing.

    I write a bit slower now, but I do less major edits. However, I don’t do major editing while I’m writing. I still think fast drafting is great, especially for first books in a series where I don’t exactly know everybody yet. I tend to overwrite first books, with flashbacks and all sorts of content that I cut later, because it helps me really get into the characters and their world. But, in later books in a series, I’m finding it just takes up too much time.

    • DJ on January 28, 2013 at 8:52 am
    • Reply

    good idea!

  8. I have quite a few stories where I’ve gotten myself trapped in editing the first chapter, rewriting it over and over without ever moving forward. NaNoWriMo has given me a much better handle on how to let go and not worry about finding the perfect beginning until I’ve dumped everything out of my head.

    I look at it sort of like a box of legos– until I dump them all out on the floor I’ve got no idea what I have to build with. 😉

  9. So glad I found you and your blog! And to know that I am doing a few things correctly. I write and generally do not edit anything until I hit “the end”! I get all my first thoughts down and just run with it and then go back and start over with the edit. Love reading your ideas!

  10. This time, as I was retyping, I could clearly see where things REALLY went awry, so then I edited until I felt I could get back on track. But moving forward, therecwerevsome confusing parts, things I wasn’t willing to cut quite yet, but feel like they could be something. Or they might be little darlings. Can’t tell yet. I highlighted them in yellow and moved along.

    Today, I start editing draft 2. And crazy as it sounds, one if my characters is a gardener (I think you knew this). Initially, I had her be a good gardener, but in this second draft, I realized it might be more interesting to make her a terrible gardener to unintentionally mess things up for my protagonist! So funny that you just posted this, as I just figured it out last Friday.

    This avast Draft stuff is a good cure for perfectionists!

  11. Can’t say I’ve ever been over zealous about editing. I’d rather write it and leave at lay than touch it. I’ve gotten better on the editing front, but I can’t see myself becoming the writer who dives into editing with any amount of fervor.

  12. I’m an editing fool, but try to keep eyes and fingers on standby until I’ve gotten that first draft down- which generally takes me about a year. So not exactly a speed writer even on the rough copy. If I stopped every chapter or so to edit while in the midst of developing my stories, I can only imagine that I’d be typing *The End* with great grandchildren on my knee.

  13. Though it takes me more than two weeks to write a novel, I don’t do any editing until the end 😀

  14. Is there a 12-step program for compulsive editors? If so, please direct me to it.

  15. I usually allow my work to simmer a while and let me thoughts settle on it before i slash and burn with the editing tools. We can ruin a perfectly good story if we get to critical. I like your tips, they sould similar to what I try to do with my work.

  16. Great analogy, Kristen. I confess I’m an edit-as-I-go type and labor over the right word etc etc before moving along. I want to take the pledge to relax and let the story flow…
    Thank you,

  17. when I was a kid, the same thing happened to my pomegranate house plant. It lost its leaves in the autumn, so I ditched it. Later I learnt that pomegranate is not immune to fall and not really evergreen just because I grew it as a house plant. The next time the fall happened with the fig tree, I already knew better 🙂 Great and vivid example for us to beware premature editing

  18. I’m with Marie, I need the 12 step program. I actually write a list. My first drafts usually fall short of my word count goal, so my second time around is filling in the blanks where I might have skipped putting in information or an important scene to make the story flow better. Third time, is the grammer and so forth, I usually wait till last to fix anything passive and tackle the adverbs.

  19. I’m currently striving for the ‘limited edit’ so I don’t get too bogged down in the writing. I also type *** at the place I left off, so when I open the document, I can search *** and go right back to that spot. It keeps me from getting caught in those dreaded editing loops.

    • Renee on January 28, 2013 at 9:45 am
    • Reply

    Your blogs always strike a deep chord, thanks! The oleander example / analogy is wonderful. This is so, so true, write the first ugly draft before you get to the gold. First draft often carries the underlying emotion, the character arc, and the story itself. If you edit too soon, and don’t finish — you wind up with a well-crafted draft that is way short on storytelling. You’re right, the subconscious mind is way ahead of how fast we can type.

    A screenwriter told me a decade ago, “You can be a great writer, but stories are what sell. Storytelling is more important.” Boy, it’s taken several clunks against a brick wall for me to get this!

    Four years ago, I befriended two ladies who were wildly talented and finaled constantly in RWA contests. They felt I was as good as they were, and urged me to enter, too. Well, I did, but I couldn’t get anywhere. Score-wise, I polarized, (high scores from experienced judges, low scores from inexperienced writers) Rather than finish the novels, I concentrated heavily on the first three chapters, editing and re-editing. I kept ripping apart my openings, figuring I could eventually “win” a judge over… and have my work final and get in front of an editor at a publishing house. Never, ever happened. Instead, I wound up with 30 different openings and an incomplete novel. Arggh. As I say — my fault.

    What happens, too, is that when you concentrate on craft and editing before the storytelling, you wind up “trying too hard.” Meaning, I found myself going overboard in the first three chapters, trying to work in all the things the judges dinged me on — overloading GMC, setting details, police procedurals. Anything the judges tore apart, I tried to fix. The results (shudder) were abysmal.

    I’d try too hard, pouring out an overkill of GMC, setting details, overexplaining, and I did not sound natural as a storyteller, at all. I sounded like someone writing on amphetamines.

    I repeated this destructive pattern for two years and smarted after snarky comments from judges. Almost quit writing and became a criticism junkie. An editing addict. It was nuts. In 2012, I became a recovering ‘contest enterer,’ “Hello, I’m a editoholic.” Didn’t enter any contests, except for two. Whenever I was tempted to enter one, my critique partner would sit across from me at Starbucks and shake her head. “Don’t enter a contest. Don’t do it. Don’t. Finish the novel first. Finish it.” (LOL)

    Lesson learned: polish after writing a complete first (UGLY — or as I say: “oooog-ly”) draft. Editing and polishing become a feverish obsession with me, I always “find something” when I review a draft and start nitpicking my own stuff. No more.

    1. The thing also is sometimes you’ve got to have the finished thing before you can see what needs to be edited. At least for me.

      • Monique Headley on January 28, 2013 at 10:58 am
      • Reply

      Renee, it sounds like we are living the same life! I too have entered contests, received polarizing scores, tweaked to fit the feedback, and cut my story to shreds, so much so it was unrecognizable at the end. Never again. I still have troubles with obsessive editing, but I work on it each ms and I’m getting better. Nice to hear that someone else has recovered from this! 🙂

        • Renee on January 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm
        • Reply

        Monique! (I think I know you, too, heh heh) Sending hugs your way. I had to stop entering contests like — underdoing detox. (LOL) When I stopped contests, I started writing more fluidly and naturally. Alicia Rasley is a wonderful instructor, (I tell everyone to take her courses) — she said to “aim for supple” when writing. Isn’t that a cool way to put it? Contests made my writing choppy, and I think that is Kristen’s point (this marvelous Oleander blog) — we cut and hack and then what we have is unrecognizable, (as you say) and far from our natural voice. Hang in there, Monique, we’ll sign with an agent eventually. Thanks for commenting to my experience, glad we’re not alone, and again, hugs to you.

  20. AWESOME anology. Your best yet, probably. You hit it on the nail this time.
    About editing … I think I need to learn how to do it properly before I can overdo it, haha 😀

  21. I loved this post. I lived in the foothills of Colorado and planted 50 cottonwood along the drive only only to have the same experience. Nature will teach us every time. That being said, I write the first draft through. I do go back and check punctuation and grammar a few chapters at a time. I also run the MS through a software program to pick up redundancies. I have learned to let it sit for a bit, and then read it over. This is the point where I find what works, flow, and if the characters are being true to themselves. The hardest part is not to do an immediate read through after the first draft is finished.

  22. I didn’t realize there was a method I was using, but I use the Fast Draft method. I just write! To stop and edit would back flow my energy and creative thought processes.

  23. Good advice. I do correct typos, etc. when I reread my first draft, and even reword sentences to make them flow better, but I don’t move things around, remove pieces or make ant other major changes until the entire draft is finished. I did that once and learned my lesson the hard way. 🙂

  24. Ha! The editing snob who lives in my left brain is having herself a hissy-fit. Thanks for this, Kristen.

    • Anne on January 28, 2013 at 10:42 am
    • Reply

    Sign me up for Marie’s 12-step program too — still working on finishing that first novel. Your gardening analogy and Renee’s point about editing getting in the way of storytelling really hit home though. I’m going to really try driving to the end of my story.

  25. This is the best advice! Even Stephen King will tell you to just get the story on “paper” in all its raw and ugly beauty. Once it’s there you have something to work with. Raw material is the gift of the Muse (which to me simply means “subconscious mind”). Then let it sit for as long as possible. When you come back to it, you won’t remember that niggling thing you thought was so out of place in Chapter 4. You will read it as a new book and everything that needs to come out will be clear at that time. Nothing is more distressing than trying to recreate something you removed only later to discover it would work perfectly in Chapter 8…

    • Monique Headley on January 28, 2013 at 11:02 am
    • Reply

    Ah, yes! I love this advice. I’ve learned the fast-draft method and used it on my latest ms. It was so helpful. I’m now in the editing phase of the process, and I still have issues with overediting. But at least I’ve finished the dang book. The most important thing for me to remember as far as writing – and I have such a hard time with remembering this – is to go with my gut. Thanks for this post!

  26. Oh dear! That’s such a sad story, they are beautiful! I am exactly the same, except I barely have the patience to garden. I’ve recently acquired two indoor plants and I’m terrified of killing them. Letting writing sit for ages is such a slow lesson to learn 🙂

  27. I love this analogy.
    I have no problem deleting text, but created a file for all the cut sections (garbage dump). I check back once in a while to see if there are any gems buried in the heap!

    I bought a couple of climbing roses that I swore were dead. It took until late June for there to be signs of life. Good thing I was so busy writing!

  28. I’m going to try the fast draft. I like the sound of it. Plants, well I have the black thumb of death so I feel your pain.

  29. Unless I’m on a deadline, I force myself to wait a month after finishing a draft before I start editing it. I actually note down the date I finish it and then mark a month from that date in the calendar. That gives me the distance I need to see what really doesn’t work and not prematurely toss out treasures.

  30. As I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo, it has always been my technique to get it all down on paper and edit later. Unfortunately, I have a habit of getting distracted writing more and more first drafts — to this day I have around seven first drafts that have not been touched in terms of editing, and yet I plan to write more.

  31. Haha – I’m one of those people who ‘just can’t bear to not edit’. Those little red and green lines annoy the heck out of me. However just not finishing a story, does too. My muse seems to have a ready whip to keep me going until the end.

  32. Good Points Kristen!
    I wish I’d read this years ago as I did just that on my second novel (Divining the Line) – edited as I went along – BAD MOVE – when my sub-conscious threw a delicious twist in at the end I had to go back and try to replace all those trimmings (essential to the whole story – when you knew the whole story) Somehow the words replaced didn’t seem as good as the ones I’d cut out.
    Nowadays, I start each writng session by reading the section I wrote in the previousl session, correcting spellings and grammar where I spot it… then carry right on writing like a manic, as it comes, no editing as I go! Editing is now done weeks after it’s all finished and my head has cooled down enough to see the whole picture clearly.

  33. Great post, Kristen – I loved the oleander analogy (and as a fellow gardener, I mourn their loss, too). But I can’t move on in my draft until it’s word-perfect (for the moment). I still go back and prune/rearrange/polish it after the draft is finished, and then I sit on it for a while before doing final edits… but I just can’t build the rest of the house if I feel as though my foundation is shaky.

    You make an excellent point about getting it done, and I know most people lose momentum on a draft it they can’t see some word count accumulating. I don’t have a daily word-count goal – in fact there are lots of days when I don’t write anything new at all; I just edit. (But I never throw away a scene – I drop them into a file and often reuse them later in the book or in another book.)

    It takes me about six months to write a 100K novel using my OCD method. I can do it in less time if I don’t have to deal with minor annoyances like my “real” job and human contact. 🙂 I have five novels and one humour book published and I’m working on the sixth and second respectively, so my method doesn’t prevent me from getting it done.

    But I type 100 words/minute and read 100 pages per hour, so despite my constant picking at the WIP, it goes pretty quickly. And I actually enjoy editing almost as much as writing (sometimes more) so constant editing makes me happy and keeps me motivated.

    It’s okay, you don’t have to say it – I’ll be the first admit to I’m a freak. 🙂

  34. That’s so sad about the flowers. I wish we could grow those really pretty delicate things here – but winter does teach us Canadians a thing or two about letting things rest too. The waiting period is something I try to do with my fiction.

    • moonduster on January 28, 2013 at 12:12 pm
    • Reply

    I like to write doing limited editing until I finish a novel. (It takes me a minimum of 14 days to reach 50,000 words and that’s only on rare occasions). My problem is getting myself to set aside time for editing later before starting on something new.

  35. NaNoWriMo taught me this lesson, too, just last November. I always knew I should do it, but couldn’t stifle my inner editor enough! Hopefully the lesson will stick. Thanks, Kristen.

  36. As a Canadian, I’m still laughing! 🙂 However, we really haven’t had much snow this winter in our area. We’ve had so much rain and mild temps that my crocuses don’t know what’s up. They’re confused. 🙁

    I like the idea of highlighting text we know we should come back to and revisit. It’s definitely hard not to fix it then though!

    Thanks for your post. Loved it!

  37. A nice reminder. This can even be the case for something as simple as a blog post. Write the whole thing first, or you end up wasting to much time nit-picking the first paragraph to death.

    • Lynda Bester on January 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm
    • Reply

    Hi. I used to do a chapter then edit etc. Then last year i joined NaNoWriMo and there was not time for that, and i discovered it is much better to edit only after. There are amazing things that come out and it seems to go so much faster to edit once the book is done. You now know what the story is about, so it makes better sense to edit now, when you actually know what has happened. Makes much more sense this way.


  38. “The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.”

    I may be Canadian but I’m not laughing. I remember visiting NC when there was a snow storm (<2") and I was all "I can drive in this" and my friend said, "yes, but nobody else can…" Point taken.

    Anyway, I have loved doing the 3 Day Novel contest for that very reason: just getting the story out there. As I love to colour (see? Canadian) code everything, I think leaving notes in a different colour is fantastic, though if using word, I would simply use comments.

    • A. M. Sligar on January 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm
    • Reply

    A fun post, but I’m Glad to know you threw the not-quite-corpses of the oleanders away instead of burning them. I once read a dandy who-dunnit in which a murderer causes his elderly victim to have a heart attack from breathing the toxic smoke from oleanders. The leaves are also quite toxic and I wouldn’t be surprised if that hasn’t also featured in a plot or two.

    • Jennifer Smith on January 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply

    Great post! I’ve found that getting it all on paper as quickly as possible helps me, too. I’ve come to realize that I enjoy the revision, rewriting, and editing stages more than I do the actual writing.

  39. Thanks for the info. I wrote an entire book and then came to a standstill because I didn’t have a process for getting that out of control mess under control. I’m making it up as I go along and your post really helped.

    • annerallen on January 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm
    • Reply

    What a great post. When I was first writing, I edited like mad. I took out whole chapters and didn’t even save them. A few months after I took a hatchet to my WIP, a beta reader told me the chapter I’d cut was really the best part, and I should have got rid of the rest of the book first. I’ve never been able to recreate it. Sigh.

    • Paige on January 28, 2013 at 1:55 pm
    • Reply

    I love the freedom of getting through a draft without editing. Thanks for the info on Candy’s course.

  40. I need the freedom of writing through a draft without editing. Give it to me!!! I signed up for Candy’s next class because I am dire need in the middle of my WIP where I have been wallowing for months. Thanks for the pep talk.

  41. Good post! After 5 years of writing on the Internet, I’ve learned to (by and large) write first, wait a day, and then edit. If you edit too early, you can kill a piece before you’re halfway finished with it.

  42. I go back over what I wrote the day before, catching basic fixes…but mostly to ramp myself back up on the scene. Since the day job can have a definite impact on my voice, backtracking through the previous day’s work (only) helps me keep continuity.

  43. I go back and edit the stuff I wrote the day before to smooth out the obvious bugs before I jump into the next chapter, but generally save the -real- editing for after I’ve finished the entire book.

  44. Nice point with the oleanders. I’m a big fan of NaNoWriMo which is pretty close to FastDraft, I guess, at least in spirit. However, when I start editing, one thing I almost always do is save the draft EXACTLY AS I WROTE IT at the time. So in all my various folders/subfolders you’ll see things like TitleD1 and then Title D2, Title D3 and so on. Sometimes with a lot of PDF files with the same name and reviewers’ names tacked onto them as well, because PDF has that wonderful comments and text-highlight tool.

    But I NEVER throw anything that I’ve written away. I’ve lost things (all my journals and some other stuff in a move once) but never thrown them away. I even have a draft of my very first novel somewhere — which I don’t read but would never dream of tossing.

    Because your point about the subconscious is extraordinarily important. It tosses things up to you that are, at least sometimes, beyond price.

  45. My father, a General Surgeon with a family practice living in retirement, had a patient who would go to Texas from Southwest Missouri to escape the freezing winters of wind chills 30 below and icy roads. Fifteen years ago he would get an office visit for a yearly checkup and RX for several months to hibernate at Texas for the winter months of Southwest Missouri. In your E-newsletter I found it unusual that Texas now has bad winter weather. It might be Climate Change or growth and development cutting down the trees causing tornadoes at Dallas as well. Texas used to be like Southern California and Florida for the elderly. Even San Diego is reporting winter. It might be like when the railroads started cutting trees to travel cross-country causing an ice age in America. My idea of editing is correcting grammar as quickly as I see it along with SPELL CHECK and SPELL CHECK and SPELL CHECK. But when I am in a hurry, sometimes I forget to spell check after I am done for the day.

  46. I liked the oleander analogy too. I am another one who keeps every version labeled by date, a habit from doing professional copyediting where the very first thing you do is save the original in case you need to refer to it later. Edits go on a working copy. My first drafts are messy and all over the place so a lot of my editing is sort of just organizing the story. I also wanted to say that a tip I have found helpful in the editing process is one that comes from Alan Watt who wrote 90-day Novel. He talks about “holding the ideas loosely” so you don’t strangle the life out of them trying to get what is in your head to work on the page. When ever I get a little frantic I tell myself to loosen up my grip. It helps.

    1. I cannot afford it, but I would like to print what I complete first draft and so on. It stays on the computer. Reading the print version helps me edit, but it became too costly. I have to do what I am capable of doing. It would cost TOO much to print. I do not believe in a credit society. China will own everything as well as earning profits from monthly interest payments.

  47. I agree with ‘don’t edit until the end’. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in perfecting one sentence, that you never actually finish your book. Plus…how can you edit a book until it’s completed? That paragraph in Chapter 3 that you think needs to be cut…might be crucial once you’ve reached the end of the story.

    When I’m working on a novel, like right now, I don’t even worry about spelling or grammar…I just go forward and know that when I’m done, I’ll go back and polish.

    Or hire a good freelance editor….

    And btw, I regularly kill everything in the garden. Which is why I subscribe to the Wal-Mart school of gardening – buy on sale, re-plant when it dies. This autumn I planted 150 bulbs in my Colorado yard. The next morning I found empty holes…the deer enjoyed the buffet.

  48. I wrote a devotion about our oleanders. Who knew that plant would inspire so many stories.

  49. I too love the oleander analogy. And I especially like your comment about how the subconscious drops little seeds along the way that come to fruition later in the story. I’m amazed how that works. Some scene will come out of the ends of my fingertips and I’ll think, ‘Oh, so that’s why I had so-and-so do such-and-such 50 pages ago.’

    I write the first draft straight through, let it ‘rest’ a week, at the very least, and then edit. Sometimes the seeds never came to fruition. Those get edited out. But I’m real glad I left the ones that did bear fruit in there.

    I too save each version separately. By the time’ I’m done, there are at least 12-15 ‘drafts’ saved on my computer. The first book I published I think had 32 drafts. And I do sometimes end up going back to those earlier drafts and putting something back in.

  50. I write slowly — brain processing every nuance. Not surprisingly, some days I can’t write more than one scene. It’s exceptional for me to write more than two. But I never look back until I reach the end of the story. Then, I take out the words too lazy to work, and the scenes (no matter how brilliant) don’t really move the story. I do that sequence a couple more times, cross my fingers, and move on.

  51. I love the way you worked the oleander analogy into novel writing. I just attended a meetup with a timed blog writing session. The instructions were to tell a story emanating from an inciting incident, include a black moment, and finish with a strong resolution–all storytelling elements I hadn’t necessarily related to blog posts. If you’d been in our session, you would have won the prize!

    1. I learn through metaphor and parable and recently I was cleaning out the dead stuff in front (leaving the oleander alone, though) and as I stared at my last remaining oleander I felt ill thinking of the others…and that’s when it came to me about how it neatly paralleled with editing. Thanks for the compliment!

  52. I edit the typo’s ‘spellcheck’ catches and anything else that’s glaring at me, but other than that, I want to get the whole scene/story down before I forget the details … editing can always happen after the sun goes down!

  53. When I write nonfic, I often cut a fact or example, only to realize that I can use it in a different place. Thank goodness for Scrivener – now my research notes are searchable, so I can find and add back the darlings I prematurely killed.

  54. I like to get the first draft done fast like NaNoWriMo fast, then let it sit. When I rewrite or make great changes, I’ll save what I’ve cut, just in case. So by the time I’m getting close to the final draft I’ll still have the original to look over and cringe. ha!

    • Amanda on January 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm
    • Reply

    I struggle with critique partners (though I love them) because I don’t want anyone to see my work or make suggestions until I’ve finished my draft–which means there are long periods where they don’t get anything from me. I don’t touch anything until the second draft, mostly because I’m lazy–why spend the time finding just the write word when I may trash the entire scene?

    • Lin barrett on January 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm
    • Reply

    Compulsive editor-as-I-go here. I’m getting better at it, but this is my first novel, and I’m learning so much I can’t really criticise the process. Next time, I’ve made notes to do things differently. Once I get this first one carved out of my keyboard, I’ll have some idea whether that’s an issue for me or not.

  55. Love this metaphor…and the lesson 🙂

  56. I’ve learned to be a lazy gardener. I give everything a season to come back after winter. And I love the idea of Fast Draft, just lock that editing bitch in the closet with duct tape over her mouth. Probably one of the pretty duct tapes, maybe the pink tiger stripes

    1. LOL. Love that image. My inner editor locked in a closet with a pretty pink gag in her mouth. Oh yeah!

    2. LOL. I agree with Kassandra. Great image! Thanks :D.

  57. Dear Kristen,
    I read your blog “Lessons From Oleander-Beware Premature Editing” in the afteroon while shuffling papers around from one place to the other. And as usual the shuffing of papers allowed an brief interlude to meditate,today__ I took that brief interlude to meditate on your words about editing. In 2010,I became the self appointed editor the csaccac Newsletter & eNewsletter__since then,Ive written several editor notes to compliment the newsletter primarily to let readers get to know me and to fill readers in on what csaccac Inc is all about. Any hoot, after reading your blog, I realized and have known it for some time that I stop using the conventional editing techniques I had been taught in high school and college. Seeminly these days for the sake of time ,Ive done away with the three to five rough drafts,venn diagrams,and outlines,maybe somewhere in my subconscious I saving the hardcore stuff for my thesis that I havent completed. And truthfully,I loved to blog I just dont want it to be an eight hour job w/o pay. For the most part, the main reason I found your blog to be interesting is because I do not like to ad lib or to dictate in a Smart Phone and I prefer free writing only in the form of brainstorming. And it never seems to fail,when there isnt enough information ,I grab the dictionary,thesaurus,encyclopedia,netbook,then put pen to paper and crank out the old three to five.

    1. Thanks for such a lovely comment and I’m super happy you like the blog. I LOVE free writing and we actually use a lot of free writing in my blogging class.

  58. I fast draft myself.
    I love your post as it mentioned us Canadians. 🙂
    Infact I loved it so much that I included it in my blog love post of the week.
    Thanks for your wonderful blog. 🙂

    • Debi on January 28, 2013 at 11:03 pm
    • Reply

    Wowza, this sounds like the perfect way to FINISH THE BOOK!! I’m going for it. I am the worst at self editing. BTW, loving your blog :))

  59. The old adage of sticking the MS in a drawer for a month and THEN editing it always works.

    1. If it finds an editor afterwards, I agree with you or else the MS is back in drawer.

    • Genny Lynch on January 29, 2013 at 12:39 am
    • Reply

    Luckily when I moved in fall into my Oregon house a wise gardener told me to leave everything iin the yard alone till summer. I looked around and thought, leave what.alone? I was looking at mostly bare earth and some scrubby bushes. But I was busy unpacking so used that advise as an excuse to procrastinate.

    I’m glad I left things alone. Starting in February thousands of bulbs started to sprout, tulips, hyacinth and daffodils. Then bleeding heart, lily of the valley, hosta, iris, tigerlilies, peonies, hardy fuchia, allium and columbine appeared like magic. The scrubby bushes were azaleas covered with purple or apricot blooms.

    So I’ll take your advise to heart. I do keep going over my work to add content and clarity and to layer in subplots and theme and to be sure I’ve set up the payoffs but I’ll leave the cutting till I’m done. What wonderful advise and an excuse to procrastinate on the part of editing I like the least.

  60. I don’t think I’ve ever edited as I went along with the story. I’ve always written it from start to finish, and by the time I’ve finished the first draft, it is a couple of weeks later and I’ve had ideas for early chapters. I jot these ideas down on bits of paper and put those in a folder with the ms to work on during the next draft. My last draft is the checking punctuation etc.

  61. Kristen, great tip and analogy! As Oscar Wilde admits, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” And for me that gets in the way. I also have to throw my inner-perfectionist into the deep freeze just to keep the flow and creative juices going….point-n-case, just now I’ve edited this damn comment 3-4 times! Geeezzzzz! 😉

  62. Reblogged this on moniquerockliffe and commented:
    Some great advice!! Personally, I find it difficult not to edit when I’m in the throes of writing a new book and trying to do it perfectly, but since doing NaNoWriMo I’ve discovered the awesome power of letting go and allowing the story, in all its glory, to flow unfettered, mistakes and all! Editing MUST only happen AFTER the initial magic of inspiration has taken possession of me! Taking this extremely freeing approach, I can create a true masterpiece because Monique and her logical, practical, perfectionist brain isn’t getting in the way!!!

    What are your thoughts on the subject of only editing AFTER you’ve written the complete story? Does it work for you or do you like editing as you go? I’d love to hear from you!

  63. A worthy retweet. I’ve tried this approach before. Book in a month is a common theme, even heard of a book in 48 hours. Unfortunately, I like to “dwell” in a scene for awhile before moving on, as it helps to hatch new ways to go forward. Since I do finish stories, I’ll afford myself the luxury. That said, it’s a decent concept for those who can’t seem to get beyone the edit phase.

    • Rachel Thompson on January 29, 2013 at 8:44 am
    • Reply

    What ever works works. Kurt Vonnegut would work on one page all day until it was perfect. He wrote one page a day, no more or less. I’m of the Steven King and James Fray mind: read what I did the day before, to get up to speed, fiddle with some corrections and then launch. Of course I do rewrites after the manuscript is complete but because I outline in detail rewriting isn’t the major thrust, It’s nit picking and cutting.
    Getting the whole thing down is good advice. Doing that sloppily makes for massive revisions- it’s like writing it twice and that’s a load of unnecessary work. I’m for making a plan and sticking with it, cutting and adding comes later. Get it down, but don’t make a mess of it.

  64. Writing a novel in 2 weeks scares the s*%t out of me. I’m afraid I’d be so digusted with what I wrote in those two weeks that it may not motivate me to do anything but to throw it into the fireplace (not a working fireplace! – I’m not crazy!!). But I’ll try almost anything once. I’ll let you know how goes.

    Good luck with the oleander!

  65. Love Melissa’s idea of typing *** and then searching for it so that you don’t go over what you have already written. Feeling terrible for annerallen’s lost chapter, Ouch!! and thank you, thank you for permission to write all over the place and fix it later. My writing went swimmingly today!!!

  66. I’m glad I don’t have this problem. XD I like writing writing new stuff far more than going back and rewriting old stuff, so it’s no difficulty for me to just plow ahead and get that first draft done. Afterwards, however…

  67. You’re so right about the way the subconscious plants things your conscious mind just doesn’t understand. I found, in writing my 300,000 word story that tiny moments early on in the prose had great meaning towards the end, that I could not have predicted. It was amazing!

  68. Loved this post, Kristen! It’s what I needed to hear. I mentioned your post in my blog today. Thanks for all the great tips.

    • Kelley hively on January 30, 2013 at 7:53 pm
    • Reply

    After laboring through my first novel and editing it mostly to death, I’m going to give my next project a chance with the fast draft.

    • Clare Scott on January 31, 2013 at 6:13 am
    • Reply

    But oleanders are poisonous – at least in NZ anyway. Pretty, very pretty, but very, very nasty… I ripped them out of my garden once I learnt this. Sad but inevitable. I’m not taking the risk of poisoning anyone or anything anywhere but in my WIP! (But your analogy was perfection!)

  69. I have an editing problem too with a very generous definition of flotsam. I can take a 2000 word short story and edit it down to “The dog died. The boy was sad.” Then I have to start all over again…

  70. I enjoyed this so much I wrote a blog post and linked to Lessons from Oleander: http://peninherhand.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/serendipity-writing-lessons-from-the-universe/

  71. First, if you have written a narrative outline of the book before you start writing the text, you are less likely to write scenes that don’t belong in the book.
    Second, if I do include stuff I later think doesn’t work, I put it in my Xfiles–in case I made a mistake and need it later. And yes, I agree that writing fast and getting it done is the way to go, although I do start each session by doing some editing on yesterday’s work.

  72. I found your blog only this morning from a writer friend of mine, Deb Atwood (you can see her post here http://peninherhand.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/serendipity-writing-lessons-from-the-universe/ ). As a fellow gardener I am all too familiar with this lesson! I try to follow this advice in gardening and in writing.

    Thank you so much for sharing! I have bookmarked this site, I’ll definitely be visiting again. 🙂

  73. That’s what I’m going to try this time. Going for typos and such before doing actual revisions of my manuscript. Here’s for hoping for the best. 😉

  74. Each time I sit down to write, I would save my MS as a new revision (StartingOverRevision18.doc). That way, everything I’d previously written was still there in the 1-17 files, so if I took out anything, I could always get it back.

    Now I use Scrivener instead of Word, so when I take out pieces of writing, I stick it over in the “document notes” section that sits below each scene’s synopsis. Sometimes I’ll even stick it in the synopsis, since I’m not using that to generate an actual synopsis.

    I’d like to try the “don’t edit at all” method, but I worry it makes the editing process that much more of a daunting chore at the end.

    1. I would be lost without Microsoft Word. I usually create a folder and create several MS Word files like chapters and list of characters and notes and research information. I am currently writing novelettes or one-fourth of a novel (12.5K), which I can later add three fourths to have a 50K plus novel. I have to deal with word counts as a finish line and section off the novels, to get it written. I just cascade the MS Word Files and copy and paste to move things around. But of course you have to make the font and size spacing is all the same in all your files or adjusts on the draft. LC or The Library of Congress has been a big help in getting research. I do not have to travel to get historical documentation on something trivial. – Daniel

  1. […] Lessons From Oleander–Beware of Premature Editing. […]

  2. […] PS – Author Kristen Lamb wrote an interesting blog post yesterday on premature editing. See it here. […]

  3. […]    Author, Christine Lamb’s blog post about premature editing of a manuscript intrigued and…sigh…relieved me. Without […]

  4. […] This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage. Never underestimate…  […]

  5. […] Lessons From Oleander – Beware of Premature Editing by Kristen Lamb […]

  6. […] she had not been in attendance). Or maybe she was that mysterious fly on the wall? Read her post here and see if you can find the hero’s journey embedded in “Lessons from […]

  7. […] edits seem to be quite controversial.  I recently read a blog post from Kristen Lamb about the dangers of premature editing, and I tend to agree with her.  Editing too early in the process can (and often does) strangle a […]

  8. […] she had not been in attendance). Or maybe she was that mysterious fly on the wall? Read her post here and see if you can find the hero’s journey embedded in “Lessons from […]

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