Editing During NaNoWriMo: A Writer’s Perspective

Posted by November 6th, 2013

editing_while_writingThis is a guest post by Book Country fantasy writer and NaNoWriMo Montreal regional coordinator RJ Blain. RJ has been around the block when it comes to marathon writing, so we invited her to get her perspective on the how to stay on top of one’s writing goals in November.

In this piece she covers a NaNoWriMo classic: “Should I be editing during NaNoWriMo?” ~NG


One of the most common pieces of advice during NaNoWriMo is to never edit while drafting. Don’t look back, always walk forward. Don’t do this, don’t do that.

Well, screw that nonsense. There, I said it. Sometimes, editing is a valuable part of the drafting process. But if you’re the type of writer who needs to edit as you draft, you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Editing and drafting simultaneously carries a lot of risks. It is important to weigh the risks and the rewards and determine whether or not the risks are worth the reward. That means taking a closer look at the project you’re working on, and determining what you want to get out of your NaNoWriMo experience.

Some people just want to write a book. Others want to write a masterpiece: their Magnum Opus. Their great work.

Well, NaNoWriMo and Magnum Opus are non-compatible. Get used to the idea. You can turn a NaNoWriMo novel into a Magnum Opus, but it involves a great deal of motivation, dedication, and hard work. It involves hours upon hours of editorial work. It involves sacrificing your pride and making the novel the best it can be.

That sort of editing work just isn’t possible during NaNoWriMo. Sure, there are a few folks out there who have a genuine gift for immediate perfection. Don’t assume you’re one of them. Leave your pride at home, and get used to the idea that you are creating something that won’t be perfect — yet.

The role of editing during NaNoWriMo

Editing can serve a purpose during NaNoWriMo. It can help resolve problems that bother a writer and prevent them from moving forward in the manuscript. It can provide a place to start each day of writing. It can boost fragile egos and self worth. There are a lot of good things editing can do. But there are bad things, too.

The first thing you need to do is consider how you’ll edit throughout the month. I think there are several main camps. These are (stereo)types, and while there are variations of each of these groups, just bear with me. (Or we’ll be here all day and never get to the main point.)

  • Type 1: The Obsessive-Compulsive Editor This person re-reads everything they write, and compulsively fixes every little error they find before moving on. This person will spend more time editing than they do on writing.
  • Type 2: The Minimal Correctionist This person fixes the bare minimum. If they have a plot hole that is blocking them on a story, they fix it and move on. If they forget to keep following a character, they add them back in when necessary. If a scene doesn’t work, they flag it for being cut at a later time, and move on.
  • Type 3: The Hybrid Editor This person is fairly inconsistent on how they edit while drafting a novel. Some days, they are the picture-perfect case study for OCD. Others, they don’t even bother fixing the plot holes they know exist. They do what they need to — or feel like — doing at any given point in time.
  • Type 4: The Grammar Nazi This person cares about one thing: The Perfectly Worded Manuscript. If there is a slight issue with the wording of a single sentence, they will fixate on it until it is addressed.

In my (humble) opinion, the people who fall into Type #2 are on the right track. They’re writing. They’re making minimal changes to make sure their novel makes sense to them, and that they can move forward with a clear consciousness. These writers person have the drive— and the discipline — to move forward with their novel. They’re constantly improving themselves and their story. They address their book’s problems before those problems morph into the excuse of writer’s block.

If you are editing during NaNoWriMo, the most important thing is that you write more than you edit. Editing is a tool to help you write more. November is not the month to make pretty words. It is the month to write words, period.

Here are a few of the things I think about when I’m writing and drafting. If all of these criteria are met, I will allow myself to do minimal editing.

1: Does the editing work resolve a critical problem with the novel?
2: Can I leave a notation and leave it alone?
3: Does the editing work take less than 30 minutes for the day?
3a: If it doesn’t take 30 or fewer minutes, can I make extra time to write today?
4: Can I do the editing work as I reread to find my place for starting today’s writing?
4a: See 3/3a.

#4 is worth pointing out, as I tend to have to reread at least a little bit (usually 3-5 paragraphs) to recapture where I was at in the story. Sometimes, I only have to read a few sentences. I will allow myself to fiddle with these paragraphs as I get into the mood to draft.

The key thing here is that editing during NaNoWriMo requires discipline. It’s for those who want it bad enough to work hard for it, and have sufficient self-control to force themselves to get back to the real work instead of procrastinating.

This piece was originally posted on RJ Blain’s writing blog

About RJ Blain

RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning. When she isn’t playing pretend, she likes to think she’s a cartographer and a sumi-e painter. In reality, she herds cats and a husband, and obeys the commands of Tsu Dhi, the great warrior fish.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Should that fail, her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until she’s satisfied. THE EYE OF GOD is her debut novel. Chat with her on Twitter @rj_blain. Connect with her on Book Country!


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