Lessons from Oleander–The Dangers 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

Almost five 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 over $100 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. *sniffles*

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. In the novel I just finished, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I am. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

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, many of them 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 superfluous 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?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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    • Melinda Primrose on March 25, 2014 at 11:52 am
    • Reply

    Not editing drives me crazy! My inner editer is too loud and obnoxious. I’ve found that doing the limited edits help me. One danger I’ve found with fast draft (besides the fact that my wrists can’t handle that much typing in a day) is that my plot ended up just rambling on and on for pages because I had no idea where it was going. I haven’t tried planning a novel *yet*. I’m just afraid that will take the magic out of the story. I guess we’ll see.
    Thanks for a wonderful reminder about what editing too early can do!

    1. I do a mix of plotting and panting. I get the log-line and main plot points then GO. No looking back. But the log-line is critical. What is the ONE sentence that sums up your story? If you have that? There are countless variations.

    2. Melinda-
      Put duct tape over the inner editor’s mouth, chain a straight jacket on her and throw her in the crawl space under your house. Seriously. You can do it if she keeps you from being the creative genius your muse wants to be. It took me years to figure out how, but as with everything, it’s mind over matter. I picture myself tying the mouthy girl up and throwing her under the house. It works 9 times out of 10.

      1. Or use Anne Lamott’s method: shrink that editor down to mouse size and put them in a jar where you can’t hear them squeak.
        If that doesn’t do the trick, use Yzma’s method: “I’ll turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then I’ll put that flea in a box, and then I’ll put that box inside of another box, and then I’ll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives… I’ll smash it with a hammer!”
        Inner editors are not protected under the Geneva Convention 🙂

  1. I am five chapters in on a WIP and I have gone back and rewritten chapter one four times. I can’t seem to get it like I want it…so I said to heck with it and started moving forward without looking back anymore. I have another author looking at it now. But just the thought of looking at it again rattles my nerves.

  2. Yes! This is exactly how I write my best stories: ploughing ahead and not looking back (to edit). I always surprise myself when I write like this.

    1. If I finish off my novel this way, get ready for a lot of emails and comments on your blog Diane.:-) I’m guessing that this first draft technique coupled with your blog series on editing steps is the way to go.

      1. I think you’re right on this writing process. I just spent years on the first full–and very clean–draft of my memoir. Now I’m adding starting the second book from a very different process: the flow of the unedited free write. I keep hearing and feeling that it will take less time… and posts like this keep affirming that! – Renee

      2. Ernesto, I welcome the email and comments. If you’ve never written this way, certainly give it a try. It’s not for everyone, but it is for many. Thanks.

    • Anna Erishkigal on March 25, 2014 at 11:54 am
    • Reply

    My most creative stuff comes when I write a new chapter each day, but whatever fiddly things come to me in my sleep overnight I’ll go back and proofread/correct JUST ONCE first thing the next morning, and then move on to write the next chapter. If an idea occurs to me later about some plot device I should have included in an earlier chapter, I make a not of it in my special notebook, but don’t change that until I’m done.

  3. What I do is an old trick I learned from a crit partner years ago. I stick in a [[ and a note, and keep going. At the end of the writing, I do a search for [[ (because that is something that I’d NEVER organically use in a book) and then take care of all of those. Whether it’s something I need to add later, a trademark I need to research to make sure I’ve written correctly, or even to insert a sex scene because I just wasn’t in the mood to write it at the time. LOL (Writing sex with PMS usually means Godzilla emerges and kills everyone, the end. LOL)

    I can’t help but self-edit typos on the fly, because of too many years in journalism and editing. I don’t catch all of them in the writing, obviously, but it helps me out later on.

    But like you’ve, I’ve had stuff that at the time I was like, “Ooookaaaay…” but I left it in with a note, and it was a huge payoff later on. Doesn’t Stephen King call them “the boys in the basement?” I think it’s like that. They’re working on something and it’s not quite ready, but they throw out a mental place-holder for me and then later on give me the finished product with a mighty HUZZAH. LOL

    1. LOVE this idea. Thank you for sharing it. So going to try this! Woo Hoo!

    2. Tymber, do you use the comment boxes in word for this? It’s what I use and I don’t know if it’s the best way or not yet… I have to tell my crit partners to ignore them in early reads…

      • Evelyn Berry on March 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm
      • Reply

      I do this, too Tymber. There’s usually a lot of prep work that involves 1) getting to know my characters and 2) plotting major scenes in the story, but when I get going I don’t look back. BUT, if there are some facts/research that I didn’t think about or character that magically appears and I can’t think of their name – they become Mr/Mrs.X,Y, or Z and [insert doo-hicky here].

      These little notes keep the writing flow moving forward, but leaves you with a way to find the blanks when the ‘boys in the basement’ are ready.

  4. I confess, guilty, guilty, guilty. Sigh. This writer is as much a WIP as my writing.

    1. Same here!

  5. whew, I feel weird because I have the opposite problem. I put on my blinkers, pour a huge craft beer and just launch headlong into writing, editing be utterly damned for a good long while. Adhering to the Hemmingway mantra that you must write drunk and edit sober (most times, not always). IF there is something that requirers a fact check beyond what I can find on Wikipedia (most things, yes I know) I put it in a different color font to go back and find later. But my first read through of a finished MS takes a long time as I use THAT stage to pre-edit and (many times) revise, cut, slash and burn (and cry and pound the table, etc). Thanks for the post Kristen, as usual, it’s prescient as I’m in something like 4 different stages with 4 different projects right now (and am THE worst gardener ever….my mom got me a bamboo plant that is now looking a little peaked–and those damn things drink AIR)

  6. I’m guilty up to a certain point: when I’m on a roll, I’ll just write. It’s when I’m insecure about what I’ve just written that I’ll pick up the red pen and hack away. I’ve edited things that are years old and wondered what in the hell I was thinking when I wrote it, but for the most part, what I’ve left intact as I’ve written has worked. The thing is, I know I’m too subjective to edit my own work with a good eye, so I’m hopeful I’ll have a solid working relationship with an excellent editor when it comes time to get serious about submitting a manuscript. Thanks for the advice; it’s sound as always.

  7. I fast drafted the first draft of my WIP for Nano, and it’s an utter mess. Especially since I hadn’t a clue how to write a mystery, let alone a mystery where _the murder victim is also the perp, via time travel_. So I’m rewriting it heavily with a detailed mystery outline, and taking seeds from that earlier draft and making them bloom properly.

  8. *Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? *

    I made the mistake, early on in my writing career, of trying to write and edit at the same time. When really the two processes need to be kept separate.

    Write your work, step away and let it marinate. A day or two later, edit it. And then you let it marinate a little more.

  9. I use different coloured text and [ ] with notes for research, giving me a double whammy – no editing and no internet diversions. I use an internet blocker program to great effect.

  10. I’m learning the value of the fast draft. Finishing my first novel took much too long because of premature editing. After your round of limited editing, do you give the draft to your CPs or do a deeper edit?

  11. Yes! Yes! Yes! Trust your unconscious. It’s one of the hardest things to learn to do (IME) but your unc knows more, much more, than you do. Your unc is the one who comes up with the dynamite plot twists you never saw coming, the unforgettable character who takes your book/plot from meh to marvelous, and even, sometimes, a great joke. (See the dick joke near the end of The Chanel Caper for an example. I didn’t even know it was there until it come up on the screen, straight from my unc through to my hands, no editing/thinking/considering stops in-between. Just blam!, pow!, right to the page, zero effort on my part.)

    So when you write something and have no idea why, just leave it alone. Your unc will reveal the reason in due time. Just listen to Kristen. She knows whereof she speaks.

  12. We’re getting a possible 8 inches of snow tomorrow. It is spring. I do not live in Canada. I digress.

    I always edit later. My blog is basically not edited at all (I know…) and my other work is written and edited after I’ve left it and come back to it. Much later. I don’t want to violently stab and kill my voice (which is usually what happens when I edit “prematurely”).

    Typos and grammar are peeves that must be corrected at once or they will find me while I’m trying to eat or sleep or something.

    • Marie Moneysmith on March 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm
    • Reply

    This is all terrific advice — thanks, everyone! I discovered a while back that moving forward every day is the only thing that works for me. If I start going back and editing, the perfectionist thing kicks in and I can’t stop. So onward!!

  13. Still laughing over the comment of Canadians and snow..lol (guilty I did snicker) This is a great idea. I have to physically pull myself away from editing while writing, but it usually pays off. I keep notes on what I want to change. I do have to fix typos though or my OCD will freak out! Great article.

  14. I guess I’m going to have to try total free-writing as a first draft technique. I’m hearing this from too many people, so it must be a better way.

  15. I try to edit while I’m writing, give it a few once-overs and then, as Akira Kurosawa said, “abandon” it to the winds of completion… 😉

  16. I love this idea of limiting your editing during the first round. Now, having said that, my husband whacked our oleanders all to hell the first year we moved into our present home and now they are full and rich and lovely. The metaphor is apt for our writing though.

  17. Love the fast draft method. I have done 3 3Day Novels, and 2 NaNoWriMos and it’s kind of amazing for me. The problem I have, after I give it some time before picking it up to edit it (3 months later) I don’t know where to start. Do you have tips for this?

  18. I’m going with the a cross between letting my subconscious roll and a limited edit.
    This is my fourth book (two still need finishing) but this one is the second book in a series.
    The first book was my debut e-book published late Dec last year.
    Nothing more than an outline plot in my head and I’m liking the results. Fingers crossed 🙂

  19. As a fellow Southwesterner, writer and one who eschews instructions: the oleander story is such a great analogy! With every blog you post, I know why I keep coming back and sending other writers here! – Renee

  20. For the current book I’m working on, I wrote most of the rough draft first. Now I’m editing. But, I’m also getting bored with editing. I find writing is fun, editing is interesting, but tedious.

    • Carolyn Birrittella on March 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm
    • Reply

    For my current book, I did very little planning and let myself write freely. It was a wonderful experience and I discovered many treasures after the first draft. However, I had to cut out many of my gems and I struggled with a laborious editing process. Next time I’ll plan more in advance, especially around character and plot, and then write freely and hope for fewer edits.

  21. Something similar happened to me with peach trees. I over-watered one little guy thinking the wilted leaves and such meant he was thirsty. Little did I know that it meant he had a fungal infection because of all the water. It was really pitiful (think Charlie Brown Christmas tree pitiful) but I figured I would rip it out of the ground the next spring and plant a new tree. There were four other peach trees in the backyard that were three times as big and I’d have plenty of peaches from those. Well, this wee little peach tree showed me! That next year not only did it come back free from the fungus but it also sprouted not one but TWO tiny little peaches! It was as if he was saying, “Rip me out of the ground?? I’ll show you what I can do.” The peaches didn’t last long as the branches weren’t strong enough to hold them LOL

  22. For the last book I wrote, the first draft came fast and furiously. No editing. When the editing process began, I was so nervous to delete something that I might have needed later. So now, I copy and paste first before deleting.

  23. Sometimes, I have to explore a little bit to understand the characters before I can do a real outline. Once I understand the characters better and they become better formed, then I go back and make sure the story is consistent with who they are and the main log-line. I consider this more pruning as I go along, cutting off extraneous branches so the overall story can blossom.

    • Larissa on March 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm
    • Reply

    I don’t edit while drafting. I do have critique group meetings, and go over a chapter or two at a time, but I save those comments until the whole ms is done. Because, like you said, I don’t always know why I put this thing or that thing into the ms until afterward. LOL. Which is one of my favorite things about writing!

  24. It’s crucial to resist the urge to overedit as you write. Not only do you risk ripping out gems, but it interrupts your creative flow.

    It’s also important not to declare yourself finished until you let your book sit and stew for awhile after first revisions. Give it another look six months to a year later. I’ve cringed at the silly scenes, prose, and dialogue I’ve found!

    • hawaygeordie on March 25, 2014 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Brian Parkin's Blog and commented:
    This is a must for any budding writer who feels they are getting bogged down in the process of editing, rather than in their writing.

    • Stephanie Scott on March 25, 2014 at 12:58 pm
    • Reply

    This: I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

    Ouch! I have learned as I move forward to edit less and less on those early drafts. My early projects I obsessed over edits without ever writing an ending. I personally allow myself to go over what I’ve just written and look for obvious stuff, typos and weird phrasing. I’m trying to do that less and just move forward but it’s tough! The writers who put out a lot of content must do this otherwise they would never get anything done.

  25. Hi Kristen, Limited Editing is a good way to go. It helps clear the detritus and when you get to the nitty-gritty of story editing you deal with a narrative not trying to deal with stuff (not the exact word) that was taught in a English class in the hazy past.

  26. I’m a NANOWRIMO man, so I’m familiar with teh ‘get it all out then fix it later’ philosophy. To use a metaphor, you can’t fix a car that’s only half built.

    But I love the idea of a two week draft–I’m gonna check her out!–thanks for the link!

  27. I love the freedom of writing with abandon. Editing can wait.

  28. I’m a grammar nazi (way too many years of teaching it), so I’d have to go with limited editing. But I do like to lock my internal (read: infernal) critic in the closet, and hum merrily while she screams at me.

  29. I am awful about doing this. A sweet author friend of mine told me something about this when I first started my current WIP. Actually, I could hear her voice saying, “Just write!” as I was tearing apart some of my story the other day. I stopped my tearing apart and rereading and went to work on finishing the scene instead of perfecting the part of it that I had. I am working on just getting the story out without stopping to reread. It’s a WIP in and of itself 😉
    Thank you for the advice, Kristen!

  30. I love the freedom of writing with abandon and leaving all editing for later.

    • Meltem Kurtman on March 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm
    • Reply

    Dear Kristen,
    I loved reading your advice on premature editing and reference to Canadians laughing at your eight inches of snow ? The snowbank in front of my house is taller than me?
    Love from Canada,
    Meltem Y.K

  31. I love this idea – I think I will implement it with one of my current WIP’s 🙂

    • Shelby on March 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm
    • Reply

    I think I need to learn to just get rid of stuff and move on, I am three years in revising my novel.

  32. Editing as I go isn’t usually something I have trouble with. I hate going back–I just want to keep going forward to newer, more exciting stuff (which creates its own problems).
    The one time I did keep going back and rewriting a bunch, I ended up ditching the manuscript completely. I’m still not sure if it’s salvageable or if I killed it. Oh well, onwards. 😉

  33. If I start editing before the story is finished, it kills my motivation. It is a completely different part of my brain that can critically edit the manuscript. If I let the red-haired slasher out of the dungeon too soon, I can kiss the story goodbye. She will sell me on what a pile of garbage it is and I’ll throw it into an electronic graveyard and move to the next project.
    I wrote my entire series using a fast draft methodology and it is done. 190,000 words of YA fantasy. I just finished the first round of edits on the first book in the trilogy. Believe me, my red pen was over-worked. But if I hadn’t finished the story, there would have been nothing to rewrite, revise, and edit into something readable (maybe. One out of five betas has returned the manuscript and is begging for the next installment).
    There’s time for the muse and time for the editor/slasher. They cannot inhabit my writing world at the same time.

  34. Also, oleanders make an excellent (if unpleasant) murder weapon, so it’s always handy to have a few in your neighborhood 🙂

  35. Thanks for your insights – very refreshing! I am okay at writing blogs or short articles, but any attempts I have made at fiction have been brutalized by a savage inner critic. Destination trash bin. So I like this idea very much – I think it could even be fun!! I guess the next thing is carving out some time……(but maybe that is just my mind throwing up another road block!). Much to think about here. Thanks!

    • Cat Lumb on March 25, 2014 at 2:34 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve written a first draft, read it over and tried to edit it. Then I realised that, over time, I’ve developed as a writer. I understand plot, character, conflict and dialogue so much more now than when I wrote that first novel. So I’m rewriting it. I spent the first two months of this year perfecting the first 2 chapters and now I’m just writing it from there on…yes, I’m changing things quite a lot, it’s leading to a second first draft situation, BUT I’m much happier with my progress and the novel itself.
    Fortunately the structure has a number of sections which will allow me to edit each section as I go, otherwise I could end up with another rewrite when I change something on a whim in the final section!
    Great post and some good advice from comments too 🙂

  36. Once I finally won a Nanowrimo, I realized that this was my process. Fast drafting has completely freed me. I recently started drafting on an Alphasmart Neo word processor and it has changed my entire writing life. Loving it! Trust your subconscious and let go of the desire to edit until later!

  37. LOL, I use both of those methods. As I reread what I’ve written the day before I’ll correct misspellings, typos, punctuation but nothing else really. I’m just there to reconnect with the story prior to the day’s writing. I love it. Even using an outline, I get into the story and wonderful bits pop into mind that I can use. That would be lost, I think, if I was editing every paragraph.

    Sorry about the oleanders, how heartbreaking.

  38. Once again, great post.
    Personally, I write everything in a notebook, and do minor edits when I type it all up into my computer. This is mainly because of my lifestyle; I work full time, and I usually get most of my writing done on the bus to and from work, on my lunch break, etc. Having a notebook is just a lot easier. But I need a digital copy, so when I’m sitting in front of the TV in the evening, too tired to do much thinking, I can type up what I already wrote, fixing a few things here and there but overall not expending too much energy. I usually do one more quick pass before submitting to my writing group just so we can avoid some redundant conversations, as I usually already know they’ll tell me to put more description *here* or cut *this* paragraph completely.

  39. That’s exactly why I love NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I actually usually don’t finish my books before the end of the month, but I DO always hit the 50k mark. And it’s a good way to force me to just pump out words.
    Usually my edit monster isn’t that much of a problem during first drafts, however…although in getting to the fifth draft of the book I’m working on, I did find myself uprooting oleanders on the later drafts. In which case my technique becomes use of writing groups. “I can’t edit previous chapters until my writing group has had the chance to make it through this draft. Then I can go back and take what advice I will.” I only make exceptions for story-breaking problems…and grammar problems.

  40. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in the process of writing the first draft to book three in my series. About 15,000 words in I find a plot hole and for days now I’ve been racking my brain. How am I going to fix it? I should bag the whole story and start over. But with your words as inspiration I will keep going and trust my subconscious. Hard to do because about now I think that I should quit writing and see if Starbucks is hiring.

  41. Terrific advice! I’m going to try that! I’m the worse at editing too much during the drafting process and it only causes trouble.

  42. OH! AND HOW difficult it is when you get to the end and realise those tidbits you edited out are REQUIRED … somehow you never find the right expression, the perfect combination of words that you are sure you wrote the first time, to put back in. Now I just love the work my subconscious does and let it ride until I find out why.

  43. It’s interesting to me, how every writer has a unique process. I did NaNoWriMo a few times, and as an exercise, I learned these things:

    1. Getting obsessive with editing really DID kill my momentum. Learning to write without looking back is an essential skill to hone.

    2. Trying to edit an entire novel that hasn’t been edited at all is a nightmare. I tried to fix that POS manuscript for four and a half years before giving up on it and starting a new one.

    3. Life is full of contradictions (see #1 and #2).

    If I don’t edit at all, I end up with unfixable slop. If I try to make it good the first time around, I get nothing accomplished. So the trick, for me, is to edit productively.

    I now write each chapter without much in the way of editing. And its terrible. It looks like Harry Potter fanfic, written by a rabid tween; no coherence, incorrect grammar and an overabundance of adverbs.

    When I finish the cruddy chapter, I use it as a bare bones guide and I rewrite the whole thing until it’s all pretty and shiny. I turn it into my writing group and they critique it for me. I take the things I want to work on and I put them into comment boxes using MS Word Track Changes, which has changed my writing life for the better. Then I move onto the next chapter.

    My plan is to only edit my chapters once before having a finished product. Then I can get a full critique of the story and do one giant revision. But if it’s somewhat clean to start, I won’t feel so overwhelmed.

  44. Like so many others here, I use [ ] and different colored text to signal where I need to come back and do some research perhaps to clarify details and make sure I didn’t describe a polar bear walking down the street in Tucson (although we do have one in the zoo who could . .) That said, I don’t only edit and re-edit as I am writing, but I revise and re-revise. I can’t pick up where I left off yesterday without going back to what I wrote and start questioning my word choice and my use of details, “polishing the prose,” so to speak. The parenthetical comment above about the polar bear in the zoo is a perfect example of what I do. I just re-read and revised. I may just end up polishing the prose to death. Years ago, my compatriots at the Maryland Writing Project awarded me the Scarlet R. Sadly, I still wear it far too often.

  45. Fast drafting is fabulous, and here’s how I put it into practice. Since I have three series on the go, plotting is incredibly important with each book I write in order to set the stage for the next book. I’ll plot 50-60% of a book before I write, then I fast draft. Employing a high ratio of plotting, allows for an incredibly clean first draft, particularly when you fast draft. I aim for 4,000 words per day, and I try not to look back as I go. I certainly do limited editing as I write, because if I don’t, my internal editor freaks out. 🙂 I like keeping her happy, thus a little limited editing soothes her soul. A first draft will usually take me around two weeks, depending on the book’s final word count. A second draft actually takes the same length of time or slightly longer. The third draft takes a week, and the final draft is a read-through where I ensure everything flows smoothly.

    Love fast drafting.

  46. Such a good lesson! When I was younger and just getting into writing, I just wrote because I loved to write. Sure, my stories didn’t have much, if any plot, but it had feeling and soul to it. I regret that I stopped doing that in exchange for editing. Camp NanoWrimo in April is my next step to getting that child-like enjoyment out of my writing again. 🙂

  47. For my current WIP second novel, I’m forcing myself to NOT go back and revise/edit until the entire first draft is done. This has actually helped me to “get the scene straight” in my head a bit more, although those words still need to keep flowing.

    • sharonledwith on March 25, 2014 at 4:27 pm
    • Reply

    OMG, Kristen, I busted a gut about your reference to us Canadians! We still have a good 2 feet of snow to deal with. Wonderful post! I will try this method you suggested, but its sounds challenging. I’m revising my third novel in my YA time travel series, so it’s hard when you’ve already written the darned thing! Love your advice, and thanks to all your support and tongue-in-cheek blog posts! You rock!

  48. I think it depends on the writer’s individual process whether this works or not. I’ve tried both ways, and frankly, editing as I write works better for me. I think more like Billy’s wanderings from Family Circus than in a straight line, so something may occur to me out of order. But what I do is sort of a controlled edit. I’m not tweaking sentences to make them perfect or play endlessly with my opening chapter because it’s “not right” (which is a form of procrastination). Instead, it’s very specific connections I’m making with the entire story that need to be in there for me to be able to write it.

    If I were to leave something for later, it would morph into a horrendous monster of a mess that is ten times worse to fix because it’s now embedded itself firmly in the story and has to picked out.

  49. I write a humor column for a monthly magazine and in my twisted need for perfection I’m often still editing for content ten minutes before deadline. In doing so good stuff sometimes gets lost in translation.

  50. I do a rough draft and the only thing I edit in the first rough draft is a major plot change that I discover as I go along. I try to not edit otherwise. When I go back afterwards, I add in new scenes and flesh things out. If I decide to remove a big scene, I save it in another file. I’ve had to give this advice to new writers: stop editing and just write! Thanks! Also. I love my oleander! 😉

  51. I’m a Darwinian gardener – survival of the fittest!
    When it comes to editing while writing, I let myself leave a note saying what needs to be done and then I carry on. My first draft ends up with major continuity problems, but at least I’ve left myself a list of what to fix.
    Trying to fix the first chapter doesn’t work for me because the story changes as I write it, and then I just have to keep rewriting chapter one!

  52. I learned the “write like your life depends upon it and don’t look back” technique from Ray Bradbury. It has served me well.

  53. First piece of fiction I wrote was my novel from NaNoWriMo last year—nothing like jumping head first, blindfolded, bound with duct tape into a bird bath from the roof of a 12-story building. I worked in publishing for five years in an editorial capacity, so my editor isn’t internal—it’s my conjoined twin. I didn’t think I would be able to do NaNo for that reason.

    But I made it through, with about 62k words, and I still have a middle/end-ish section I need to write. Letting myself just write made things happen that I hadn’t planned or thought about before, and those surprises were great.

    I know a writer who spent 10 years writing her first novel. I simply do not have the attention span for that type of writing.

  54. When I write I hardly edit anything. Admittedly everything I’ve ever published is on Fanfiction.net, so rarely do I write a story where I’m not posting chapters before I’m done. I do edit spelling and grammar, and I send things to my Fiancé because he can pinpoint paragraphs that make absolutely no sense. Otherwise, I keep writing and when I get stuck I go back and re-read. That way I pick up plot threads I’ve forgotten about and can pick back up. Occasionally this means adding a sentence to already written stuff, but I agree with you that my subconscious is smarter than I am!

  55. That’s how I always write. Get the story out and then go back and fix and add details. Once you’ve got it out you can mold. I have it all in my head and need to get it out as fast as I can lol!

  56. Wow, some good advice! Got me all pumped up to write something. I tend to bog myself down before I even try. All my plots and ideas sound foolish within a day’s time. I’m just going to have to find a way to get past that though.

  57. Not editing drives me bonkers, but I’m going to do my level best to write the rest of my current WIP as a fast draft. I’ve got to. It just won’t get done any other way. I wrote a big chunk of it for NaNo a few years ago and, um, well… yeah. Never finished because I started editing and then the voices crept in.

    So, again, another timely and awesome post – thank you for the reminder to cover that delete button, and only move forward.

    Sorry about your oleanders. I hope you were able to find something lovely to replace them with. 🙂

  58. Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    good advice from Kristen, don’t rush to edit your MS, give it a chance to breathe

  59. My first book I re-edited daily. I’d read the chapter that I’d written the day before, re-write the hell out of it, then move on. I’m still working the revisions on that baby,
    Second book is going much faster, I’m not letting myself look back until it’s finished, and have actually started book three as well. Finally have a flow going.
    I think it’s helped that I’ve taken a few different classes to learn the process, now to apply what I’ve learned 🙂

  60. I correct grammar as I write. The story itself is edited in the second draft. Oh, but how I hate doing second draft! I just sit there at the desk and yawn and look around and do very little work. The first draft allows me to exploit my creativity and I make up these jokes or situations that sound so funny I burst out with laughter. In the second draft, everything seems doubtful, dubious, mediocre, and the jokes are anything but funny. I hate second draft!

  61. I really don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all formula. I am a compulsive edit-as-you-write sort of guy. Every person has to find his or her own comfort zone.

  62. Candace Havens should get a medal. There. That is all I am going to say on the matter.

    1. She should have more than that. She is FANTASTIC!

      1. That she is. I’ll be honest and say I have not heard of the term Fast Draft before today, even though, strictly speaking I have done it with a novella I had written.
        And it works beautifully. It certainly brought the fun back into writing for me.

  63. I’m currently working my way to the end of the first draft of my second chapter. I already know that there’s a section in there that needs taking out but I’m ploughing on regardless. Removing it would take a little jiggling so I’m happy to leave it until the second draft. I don’t mind doing a little editing as I go as long as it’s an easy fix. On previous projects I’d read what I’d written and then rewrite the hell out of it over and over again. That was why I never got beyond half a page of the first chapter before abandoning it. I know with my WIP there are a lot of things that need attention but this time I’m completely okay with moving on and leaving editing until the second draft. Changing how I write is why I’ve written more than I ever have done before plus I’ll be keeping every single draft so nothing will ever be lost.

    I’d never had a garden before I bought this house. Fortunately my boyfriend’s mum has been gardening most of her life so I’ve had plenty of sage advice to hand. I researched the plants to death before buying anything (making sure they were suitable and idiot proof) and so far have been doing okay. I think the main things I’ve learnt are never to throw anything away and that gardening takes time, energy and perseverance. If it doesn’t happen this year there’s always next year, or the year after that or even the year after that! It always feels amazing when patience pays off. Whatever you do with your garden I hope it’s fabulous!

  64. When I’m volunteering in a Master Gardener booth, the answer I give most often to the question of what to do with “dead” plants in spring is, “Have patience.” It is amazing what plants can recover from. As you found out . 😉 I am finding that the fast draft isvery good advice. even for someone like me who writes slowly. As an idea about something I missed or need to edit comes up, I just make a comment under “review”, and keep moving forward. I am making progress.

  65. Great Tips from the Oleander Queen !

    • mecarr3 on March 26, 2014 at 8:18 am
    • Reply

    Another great post and awesome discussion in the comments. Like others, I find that while I love diving through with no edits, it can trip me up big time. I’m currently also playing with a combination of write-write-write, edit-edit, write-write-write. In other words, I’m trying out the method of editing a big chunk of text before proceeding to the next section of the novel. We’ll see. I suspect my process will change with every book! Thanks for stimulating this fabulous community!

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

    There was one particular night in January or February, when the news reported that parts of Texas had suffered -40 wind-chills, exactly the same as we were having 1200 miles due north. The general response was, amazingly, “Oh, heck! They don’t have the right clothes, tires, or furnaces for that!” We understand the perils of serious winter, and won’t yuck it up when it settles its unpleasant rump on the unexpecting (if it had been snow alone, we’d probably have had a collective covert snicker. We may be sympathetic, but we’re not made of stone).

    To the ACTUAL topic at hand; I’ve switched from all-computer composition to hand-written first drafts, and it has helped immensely with a problem of getting so involved in repolishing a given sentence that the story never gets finished.

    • Mary Ellen Wasielewski on March 26, 2014 at 9:54 am
    • Reply

    Perfect timing for this blog. My book is unfinished , I am critical of every sentence I write and the story goes no where. At the time I stopped to read your blog, I had my cleaning gloves on and was pausing after cleaning the refrigerator , even behind and underneath. Obviously, this was a critical chore and not at all a justification to not writing. Thank you for speaking to me louder than my conscience was .

    • Carina Bissett on March 26, 2014 at 10:23 am
    • Reply

    This is some of best advice I seen. Thanks.

    • Elijah on March 26, 2014 at 10:38 am
    • Reply

    This is basically what I did for my first draft. It was hard at some points, but I kept pushing ahead, you can always edit later. I am very happy with the results but sadly it is editing time and it’s not nearly as fun.

    I’m definitely a pantser in writing, I enjoy the freedom, that anything can happen. I’ve found myself asking, more than once, “What if this?” And suddenly the character is dead, a character was saved, or thrown into the most unexpected situation.

    What gets me through editing is getting to read my refined scene.

  67. Yep, this is me. I put my heart down on paper, then edit because it’s too risky to put that much of me out there. I put out just enough to resonate. Of course, I’m not writing novels, just short story prose, observations. Still, I should give this a try. I might surprise myself, and my readers. 🙂

  68. I’m editing my second novel now, but will keep Candace Havens’ fast-drafting advice in mind for novel number three. Thanks, Kristen. Another great post.

  69. This is so true! When I finally stopped editing and just wrote suddenly I finished a book. Good advice, that has worked for me.

  70. Thanks for the advice. I love this analogy to dead plants. Sometimes I’ve had stories that I thought were long dead and got placed into my story compost pile, and then I went back to read them many years later only to find a kernel of life in there somewhere. Unfortunately I have a hard time separating my editing from my writing. The truth is I have to be excited by something I’m writing, and if the beginning parts are messy or confused I have trouble soldiering on to the end.
    And on a tenuously related tangent, don’t put oleander in your compost pile. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  71. I’m a total pantser, so I completely agree. Editing kills the writing process. If I just write and write and write without looking back, I end up with a much better story. The ONLY time I edit is when I hit a dead end for months. Then I look and realize I wasn’t listening to my characters but instead trying to control the story.

    *Shakes head* Our characters are smarter than we are sometimes. 🙂

  72. I’m the type of person who will start a new day by going back and reading the last chapter I wrote. This helps me get back in my flow. Invariably I will do some light edits but when that internal editor tries to take over too much I give her a hard swat or I’ll get bogged down and never start a new chapter.

  73. enjoyed this post very much – and great analogy. I did something similar in the garden – and I pulled up four hibiscus shrubs. I knew I bought a hearty variety -and so it was not the cold I thought had killed them. It was when it was late May and they were still not even budding – and had no signs of life. so I took them out – and as I did I noticed the roots looked plenty alive. so I put one into a pot – and come late June – it did as your single oleander did – it grew and was healthy.

    anyhow, in my case it was a bad spot for any plants because my neighbor came and thanked me later – so whew – glad it happened – 🙂

    anyhow, your post really seems to offer so many tips for FLOW!!!
    thx for it.

  74. I prefer the limited edit method. Correcting only punctuation and grammar mistakes. If i concentrate too heavily on the editing before my book is finished I will kill it before it even blooms much like your flowers. I actually spotted this mistake in my first two i self published and in the third i’m working on now i’m forbidding myself from doing editing till the book is fully finished. So far, it seems 100x’s more successful than the first two if i would have combined them into one big book. So hopefully this will turn out to be my definitive method.

  75. Loved this post. As a brand-new-soon-to-be-published-but-no-real-idea-what-I-am-doing writer, it certainly gave me something to think about. I am not established into any writing process yet so always keen to hear of ideas to be both productive and achieve best outcomes. Thank you!

  76. I also think having a trusted beta reader look over a first draft before you even think about starting on a second — even if the first is basically wordvomit (though make sure they’re okay with reading that) — can help work out what’s working and what’s not, because we totally can’t work that out for ourselves.

  77. I have ruined many a story and many a blog post by editing too soon. I have a few scenes planned out in my head, but once I write them out, I start gutting them. It’s hard for me to “let it be” and go about writing the rest of my piece.

    (And I’ve never finished a novel or even a short story.)

  78. Gaston Bachelard champions (and articulates beautifully) the pivotal role of the subconscious in his books “The Poetics of Space” and “The Right to Dream.” GREAT article, thank you for raising this, and highlighting the whole picture of what we need to create strong work!

  79. The fast draft is so brilliant. If only we can get out of our own way and write. I have spent so many years on the other side of the desk as a copyeditor, that it is extremely difficult sometimes for me to just get the story out and trust in the process. Bleh!! I am going to try harder. A novel in two weeks or even two months is worth it. Get the story out then edit, rewrite, polish. Thanks, Kristen, (and Candace) for the kick in the butt that I needed.

  80. Wow, does this resonate. I’ve learned the hard way if I just have to edit, put those cut sections in an out takes file. At least 50% end up going back in. My subconscious is far smarter than I am…

    • Niki Barlow on March 30, 2014 at 9:35 am
    • Reply

    Great information. I learned early on to copy anything I got rid of and put it into a discarded scene file. Some, I brought back when I realised it was relevent. Other, scenes have been forever trashed.

  81. I’ve learned the hard way to not go back to start editing until I have finished the first draft. I have wasted weeks editing chapters that ended up in the trash. I’ll never get that time back and it interrupted the creative flow. I force myself to leave comments for myself and push on.

  82. I tend to have more the opposite problem. Once I finish the first draft, I don’t want to go back and edit. I want to go on to the next thing (or go play golf). I try to find typos and such, but big edits I’m not really too good at. It’s work. Writing – when it’s going well, of course – is fun.

  83. Reblogged this on Sophia Kimble.

  84. A passionate gardener and former newspaper editor, rapid hacking and slashing is second nature. I remind myself often that deadlines and ad-stacked page dummies are not a concern in the novel-writing process and that plants rise from the dead more often than imagined if you patiently wait for germination.

    • bethhavey on April 7, 2014 at 10:19 pm
    • Reply

    Now that I am editing a WIP that has seen 3 versions, I am not too worried about slashing some sentences. The last few days I have been playing with sentences, making things clearer, finding synonyms, making the work more readable. But I know what you are saying. We moved from a 4 bedroom house to a townhouse, from the midwest to California and every day I think about something I gave away or sold–and miss it. Silly. It’s just stuff. When I take out large chunks of work, I always store them at the end of the document. Because you never know. Thanks for the post.

  1. […] Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

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  7. […] Lamb warns us of “Lessons from Oleander — The Dangers of Premature Editing” and grants permission to not edit for fear of losing a […]

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