Writers, I would like to ask a question of you…

This is one of those horses for courses questions, what suits you might not suit me, perhaps different occasions call for a different approach.

I’d like to collect thoughts, gather experience, receive some received opinions.

When we sit down to write every day, as we do (every day) do we either:

a) start from the beginning of the piece, read through it and edit and then continue where we left off, polishing as we go?

Or, do we:

b) start where we left off yesterday, plough on and get as many pages written as possible and finish it before we go back and edit a word?

Obviously there’s no right or wrong way, but maybe there is.  And I want to know what it is.


[PS This blog is by no means a diversionary tactic from actually doing writing.  In a way this is writing.]


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason Arnopp says:

    I say there’s no right and wrong here: it’s all about what works. Whatever gets the job done, and gets it done well, is the right answer. I’ve spoken to a few pro writers who re-read and edit at the start of every day. Works for them. For me, though, the first draft is all about never looking back and maintaining forward momentum at all times. Like a shark. A word-shark.

  2. Brian Morgan says:

    Ideally, I like to read the last paragraph or so, edit that, then continue on writing. That helps me get back in the swing of the piece, but keeps me from getting bogged down.

  3. Angela Jobson says:

    Depends what I’m writing, for fiction I like to plough on as far as I can then re-read & edit in sections then bash on again, then do the hiding bit, then edit it again sometimes I do a story outline 1st, or maybe create one as I write, or not bother at all & just write it.

    For scripts I try to use the method I was taught at ITV, ie. Outline, SxS, then Scenes, with polish at each stage then hide from it as long as possible (assuming deadline wasn’t yesterday) & then go over & remove rubbish, correct mistakes, polish again or start over depending on how bad 1st draft is. I tend to work by jumping around the story & always have notes of bits of dialogue, description, actions etc. which pop up along the way (usually when not at the computer, great tip for if you get stuck, just walk away!) I re-read what I’ve already written a lot, esp at the outline stage where I edit & add as I go & correct mistakes as I spot them. Depends if the whole story is already formed in my head, or if it’s just part formed & needs to be built up further.

    For factual pieces I tend to be more haphazard, writing lots of disjointed paragraphs then sorting them into a logical order, seek out duplicate info & then polish it at the end, again I re-read a lot & sometimes polish as I go (or make notes in brackets) then finally polish the lot.

    There’s no right or wrong way, what ever works for you on a particular day. I have been known to write snappy dialogue on the edge of a till receipt, followed by the words “I love my job!” whilst sitting on a park bench surrounded by shopping bags.

    If it works go with it.

  4. thenorthernscribbler says:

    I write exactly the same as Angela (above). I agree – there is no right or wrong way it’s whatever works best for you. With scripts I have to write my treatment, and a detailed scene outline which is the trickiest part for me. Once the scene outline is pretty much nailed I then write the dialogue (the fun bit).

    I tend to keep writing then, if it is flowing then I write and write and write (a valuable bit of advice from a session with Willy Russell that I attended last year). Keep writing. When it’s more of a struggle, I reward myself after each scene by allowing myself to sneak onto twitter and facebook.

    Happy writing xxx

  5. I’ve never written anything longer than a blog or an essay but I fastidiously start at the beginning every time to check what I have written previously. If anything jars I change it there and then and I’m only fully happy with something when I can read it beginning to end and it flows without any ‘jarring’. It takes me ages and I annoy myself. If I ever wrote a novel I think I would have to change tactic and read what I had written from the beginning of each chapter. It would be quite time consuming to read three quarters of a novel before settling down to any work but it would fit in well with my work avoidance tactics.

  6. I agree with you that this is a purely subjective perspective. That being said, I like to reread what I wrote the day before, do the editing and then move on. I find that this process is a a great warm up and gets the creative flow in motion. Great question, Janine!

    Thanks so much for connecting with me on Twitter @CinemaProfound. Now that I’ve been here, I’ll return the nod and keep an eye out for your tweets.

  7. Yawn the Post says:

    It depends what it is I’m writing…with novels/fiction I plough on because revising yesterday’s work would take up all my time. Finish the thing, then redraft, and so on. With shorter pieces (short stories, blogs, articles, reviews etc) I like to be more meticulous. However, ploughing on can lead to overwriting – eg.I’ve been asked to cut down my most recent book by 40,000 words, So maybe I’ll try the more meticulous approach to my next book.

  8. You’re spot on when saying there is no right or wrong – there is a different approach for every one of us, but I find for each piece as well.

    I used to be a perfectionist – sit down and write from the start, editing as I went along, For me this resulted in going no further than a couple of paragraphs / a scene or a chapter for ages.

    I’ve been a Jack London fan since my teens and read in a biography that he wrote 1,000 words a day. I set that goal for myself and honestly, I think I achieved it once.

    With time, I’ve learned to loosen up a bit. I’ve stopped trying to write chronologically and just write what comes to mind, whether it is a random scene in a script or a chapter in the middle of my novel, I’ve adopted a “just get something down on paper” mentality.

    As for editing, it depends on my mood and the piece. Sometimes it helps to go back and re-read and tidy what I’ve done, it puts me in the right frame of mind, other times editing becomes a time-consuming distraction.

    Overall, I try to leave editing for the end and get on with the piece. If it is an article, I do write it first and edit later.

    I have no idea if that gives you any answers but I’m counting this towards my 1,000wpd goal 🙂


  9. Stuart says:

    I do both… Really depends what it is and how confident I am in a) the story or b) what I’ve written the day before

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