Hey! I’ve been working on a novel for a while, and my process was to just start writing and let it iron itself out. Now I’m 20k words into this book and I have a really good handle on what it is and where it’s going–but some of the scenes I’ve written are inappropriate, written from a POV character I’ve abandoned, and/or just plain factually wrong. Should I just keep writing and fix it later, or should I go back right now and fix it all because of how incredibly wrong it is? Thanks!
Haha, I was just thinking about your question when I came across this quote by Lauren Beukes that sums it up perfectly:
Finish the damn book. Nothing else matters. Stop second guessing yourself and write it through to the end. You don’t know what you have until you’ve finished it. You don’t know how to fix it until it’s all down on the page.
Ie, keep writing and fix later!
If you think about a perfectly finished story like a perfectly finished sculpture, your first draft is the part of the process where you’re collecting your clay. Once you have all of your clay in a big enough lump (ie, you’ve reached your word count goal), you can start shaping it into the beautiful, finished sculpture that it will become.
A lot of writers will even hammer out a first draft and then start the whole process over, making changes to their second write-through based on what they discovered in that first draft. If keep going back to edit before you’ve finished, there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck doing that and never actually write your story to its end. Also, the scenes that you find inappropriate now may not be once you’re at the finish line; you need the perspective that comes from standing at the end of the narrative.
Now, there are some writers who will read back over what they wrote the day before and make minor changes before embarking on the next day’s writing. For example, Joan Didion talks about doing that in this interview. But I think that probably works because she’s only looking at what she wrote the day before, and she’s only making minor edits (I’d guess more line edits than anything else). But the organization of that process keeps her from getting caught up in infinite loop of back editing.
So yes, carry on! Especially since you feel strongly that you know where your story is headed—that’s awesome. Good luck & hope this helps!
This article will be archived on our Writing Advice page, under the heading “Editing".