Repeat after me:
First you write, then you edit.
If you take one thing away from this post, take that.
I wasted two novels learning this lesson, sculpting each sentence as if from from marble. I stared at the screen until I had the sentence I wanted. Then the paragraph. Then I went back and reread the paragraph, correcting the sentences again. Then I went through again if I’d made any changes. Then I made sure it matched the paragraph before it. Then I…Then I…Then I…
You want to know what I did after all that? I quit!
Editing is essential, and you will spend more time editing than writing, but is a completely separate beast from generating words. When you first start writing a story, that is the time for pure, unbridled, shameless production. Yes, shameless! Don’t feel bad for what you are producing.
Repeat after me:
It is bad and that is okay.
Here’s the key, anything and everything can be corrected, deleted, or rewritten. If you don’t like a chapter, you can delete it. Don’t like that paragraph, rewrite it. That character isn’t strong enough, give him some better dialogue. You don’t like the villain, make a new one!
You are god! What you are writing is your creation, forged by your hands and your imagination. Make whatever the hell you damn well please out of it. When you bring it to beta readers or a publisher or your mom, then you can worry about what you’ve filled it with, but until that point, your work is your playground.
Do not be afraid to write and do not waste time editing until your first draft is done.
The reason I’m writing this is because it is what I struggled with the most. Nothing held me back more than doubt and insecurity and I know the same thing holds back a lot of other writers. Writing is different for everyone though. I heard of an author who wrote his books meticulously, writing everything perfectly until he was at the end. It took him longer to get to the end, but when he was done was the final draft. If that works for you, power to you. It didn’t for me and it doesn’t for many. Most people are too concerned with making it perfect the first time.
What I do, and I’m still learning this, is first write from beginning to end. I didn’t do this with Sorcerer Rising, not until I became serious about it. There was a lot of stop-starting and those first eight or nine chapters were rewritten ten times over three years. When I finally decided to break out of that loop, I simply read through what I had (because it had been a long time since I looked at it) and then started where I left off.
I didn’t look back until I wrote the epilogue.
The biggest thing I do to keep myself from editing when writing, is my second run-through. With this second novel, any part where I didn’t know where to take the story, I skipped. It has a blank space with a sentence detailing the gist of what I want. After I type the last word, I go through again and fill in these blank places. Some of my best ideas have been in reading through the story and getting to these spots, only to realize what should have been there all along.
That’s my spill on editing, because I believe the essential part of writing is in not editing while you’re writing. As for the actual editing process, I don’t have much to add. I’m still learning myself. I think that is just about applying the skills of the writer and making your work look as best as possible, but that’s really vague and totally dependent on the skills of the author. Not much to add on that part. I would love to hear how other people manage that, because I think I’ve wasted time with things I didn’t need to.