Write first, edit later

If you want to write, just write. Heard this before? It sounds easy, but it can be difficult to get your thoughts down without editing along the way. But writing is a process. Getting the ideas out is the first step; fixing the details should come much later.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which means participants attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. The time period encourages writers to put words—any words—on paper (or screen). It doesn’t have to be the most beautiful prose ever written—the work can be polished later on.

Freewriting can help get these words out. Recently I took a writing course with author Brian Francis. At the beginning of each class, Brian had us write for about fifteen minutes. We weren’t to think too much about what we were producing, and we weren’t to go back and redirect our writing.

I found it a bit difficult at first. My natural inclination is to edit as I write. When I write at home, it’s usually on a computer, and I hit Delete multiple times as I go. It’s so convenient; I do everything from fixing typos to choosing better words to changing the direction entirely. But the problem is it ruins the flow, and it can throw a great idea off track.

I didn’t bring my laptop to Brian’s class. I had a good old-fashioned notebook. I put pen to paper at home, too, but mostly to jot down notes and passing thoughts, not to form full paragraphs.

With paper, it’s not as easy to edit while writing. I did go back to strike out things during these freewriting periods, but it wasn’t as convenient. And when I did cross out something, I could still see what I originally wrote when I read it over. Sometimes I liked my initial work better. It made me wonder how many good ideas I’ve lost to the delete key. I’ll never know.

But I’ll continue to write on my laptop. It’s faster than cursive writing, it doesn’t make my hand cramp up and it’s a lot easier for me to read (my penmanship isn’t fantastic). I just need to write on screen the way I can write on paper: free those ideas, then shape them. Write first, edit later.

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