A Pantser Technique: Editing as I Write


Usually when it snows here, the day warms up enough to melt it off.  We’ve been staying in the teens and twenties though, which has left snow on the ground and more is on the way.  Being from California, I thought snow was cool when I saw it the first time.  Then after getting stuck in it, trying to navigate it, trying to deal with crazy drivers who think “Hey!  I’ve got an SUV!  I can drive whatever way I want!” —  well, it’s not neat.  Give me warmth!

One of the things I started doing again was “editing as I write.”  This isn’t the right term for what it is, but that’s the one I heard over the years.  I always did it, but I kept hearing things like “write straight through the story and then fix it on the revision.”  It amazes me now how much writing advice that works for pantsers is decreed as a “Do NOT do this.”

What I do is bounce around the story like a pinball and continue to work on different sections.  It’s not revision — I’m not going back to Chapter 1 to tweak the words and make them perfect (which I did do on a past co-written project called Valley of Bones).  It’s actually still part of creating the story and making everything fit together.

I stopped doing it on Cascadian’s Blight, a later project, partially because I kept hearing “Don’t edit while you write,” and also because I was frustrated with the story and I wanted to get it done.   That was the lure of doing it — just get the draft done, and then everything could be fixed on the revision.

The problem was all those little things I left for later added up to a lot of big things.  I got the true impact of not doing this when I took Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel (which is threaded with outlining techniques).  In one of the early lessons, we had to go through the entire manuscript and identify problems.  It was so bad because I hadn’t bounced around that I was pulling out my hair.  I ended up scrapping the book and starting again, which was hard because of all the time I’d spent on it.

So this is how I “edit when I write”:

1. I don’t change words unless I’m fixing a typo.  Granted, I keep finding those pesky things!  Grr!

2. I don’t revise sentences unless I can’t figure out what I was trying to say (usually resulting from typos or missing words).

3.  I don’t revise anything to make it perfect or better.

4.  I do add more of the five senses, since these are hard for me to get in.

5.  I do add more setting from the character’s perspective.

6.  I do update any places where I put placeholders in for research.

7.  I “shake out the wrinkles” in the story, which means that if I thought I needed a fence in Chapter 7, but realize it’s creating a problem in Chapter 29, I take out the fence.

Mostly, it’s a lot of additions, and, well, a lot of typo fixing.  But it’s fun also because I can see how the story is taking shape.