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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Drafting + Editing = Writer’s Block

blocked 3jpg“Write one page without looking back.” That was the challenge I offered a new coaching client.

Gloria’s writing was crippled by perfectionism. She edited too soon. She couldn’t get past the first paragraph without having to go back and start over again. And again. And again.

Gloria accepted that challenge. She wrote without looking back, and in two weeks, she wrote 25 pages. They were messy and imperfect of course, but they were words on 25 pages.

More importantly, Gloria stopped stopping herself. She started feeling good about herself as a writer. She found her rhythm. She started to see the depth of what she wanted to say.

And most important of all, Gloria is well on her way to creating a sustainable Product Time habit.

Do you edit too soon? Even if you don’t get stymied at the first paragraph, do you slow your drafting with frequent changes? Are you looking back or looking forward?

Do you eliminate ideas before you even get them on the page? Do you think of a sentence, decide that’s stupid, try to think of another, which you think is just as stupid?

Do you give up just when the editing should really start?

Editing and Drafting Don’t Mix

multitasking writer's blockMany writers think that editing as they draft is efficient. It’s not.

Drafting and editing are different cognitive functions. If you switch from the kind of thinking you need to draft to the kind of thinking you need to edit, you slow yourself down and make more mistakes. In other words, trying to edit while drafting is a form of multitasking, which simply doesn’t work.

Even knowing this, a lot of writers, myself included, find it extremely difficult to leave a mistake on the page and just keep going. You see the problem just behind or above your blinking cursor. It grabs your attention. It taunts you and you can’t think about what you were going to say next because you’re so distracted by what you just said and how wrong it is.

So you go back and fix it. And then you notice something else that could be tweaked and before you know it, you’re revising your first paragraph into perfection, but for the life of you, you can’t remember what you were going to say in the second paragraph, let alone in the rest of the piece.

Trying to edit as you draft, or in some cases, before you draft, is a sure way to block your creative energy.

Premature editing will frustrate your Inner Drafter. If you consistently interrupt getting ideas and words on the screen or page, that part of your creative mind just gives up.

Not only does premature editing interfere with drafting, it exhausts your Inner Editor. If you edit as you go, then by the time you finish a draft, you’ll think you should be completely done with it. Just as you can’t do your best drafting if you interrupt drafting to edit, you can’t do your best editing if you’re also trying to draft.

Far too many writers stop before the real work even begins.

Good Writing Comes from Rewriting — At the Right Time

shitty first draft writer's blockI always tell my students that good writing comes from rewriting. More accurately, good writing comes from rewriting AFTER drafting, not while drafting.

First you get something on the page. It can be crappy. It will be crappy. But the crap you have on the page can be transformed. What never makes it to the page or screen never has a chance.

After you draft the whole crappy, mistake-filled, awkward thing, you go back to the very beginning and start the real work. You tweak, rephrase, reorder and reorganize, delete, insert and replace words, sentences, images, metaphors.

Your editor eyes need to be fresh for this. They won’t be if you edited prematurely.

Good writing comes from properly timed rewriting. How’s your timing?

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6 Comments on “Drafting + Editing = Writer’s Block”

  1. Joel D Canfield December 17, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    This is the reason I write in a plain text editor. I can type ridiculous nonsense, and it doesn’t feel compelled to throw colored squiggly lines at me and blare the klaxons at every typo.

    Unlike this comment box, which announced I’d misspelled “klaxons” (but I LIKE it with two Xs.)


    • rosannebane December 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      I see nothing wrong with creative spelling, within limits of comprehension. So go Klaxxons!


  2. Mia Kammeyer - Mueller December 17, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    This is me, exactly. I can recognize when I multi-task in other areas, but never thought about it in my writing. Thanks for the great blog.


    • rosannebane December 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      You’re welcome Mia! I’m glad it gave you new insight.


  3. rosannebane December 29, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    I don’t know if we use different areas of the brain for editing and drafting. But that’s not the point I was trying to make. Editing and drafting are different cognitive functions (regardless of what areas of the brain are involved) and therefore trying to do both simultaneously means you can’t do either effectively.



  1. Writing + editing at the same time – A bad Idea? | Margaret Skea, Author - December 18, 2014

    […] this article Drafting + Writing + Writer’s Block has got me wondering. Do we in fact use a different part of the brain for these two functions? I […]


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