One of the most pedantic, yet true thing a professor ever said to me was, “Writer’s write, kiddo.” He wasn’t wrong, but we do a lot more than that. The key is really to do one thing at a time. And that’s why I’m here to share the gospel of the write first, edit later lifestyle.

a hand holding a pen and circling errors in a printed document with the text "Write First, Edit Later: A Spiritual Discipline"

Okay. So maybe it’s not a lifestyle. It’s an active choice, and one that I don’t always make.

Got a lot of writing to do? Write first, edit later. Do some sprints and get words on the page. Come back later and fix that mess.

Got an email that will take two sentences to respond to? Feel free to edit as you go.

The key here is to know when you need to hit that state of flow, and when you don’t. Not all writing requires it. In fact, I can never hit that state of flow with freelance blog posts I write. But I can on my own blog.

I suspect there are many reasons for this, but mostly it probably has to do with being able to get lost in a topic, and the blogs I freelance for are very research-heavy. So it’s harder to get lost. Even so, I mostly only ever get lost in my own fiction.

And that’s if I’m lucky.

There are a lot of distractions in my day. Whether it’s the siren song of the internet trying to lure me to my doom or my dog asking for a snack for the eighth time in an hour, or even my husband playing the TV too loud in the other room, there are a lot things that prevent me from getting in that state of flow.

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So when I need to think about how to write more words and hit my deadline, I need to cut out all distractions.

And the worst of all these distractions is editing. Let me explain.

Editing is a writing distraction. Click To Tweet

Write First

How many times can it take you to get your writing where you want it? One billion? Two billion?

Whatever the answer, it’s a lot. And if you’re working with a few sentences on a page, you can’t keep retooling those sentences until they’re perfect. I mean, you could. There are writers who are known for that. But honestly, it sounds miserable.

I prefer to write everything all at once. That way, all the ideas get out of my head and I don’t lose them while I’m reworking sentences. Once everything is out on the page in front of me, it’s easier to see what I’ve got to work with and I can trim the fat from there.

This has the added benefit of letting me write a lot all at once. As someone who worked full-time in grad school as a ghostwriter and did some freelancing, I spent a lot of time writing stuff for clients and for my professors. In my prime, I was writing about 30,000 words a week. That is significant. I’m not saying this to brag. I am saying this because I had to figure out how to make it happen.

And I did it by getting everything out of my head and onto the page. Then, I’d read it over and fix the mistakes. I’d combine sentences and clear typos.

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This became the way I was able to write 10,000 words or more during the workday, and then go home to bash out a 1,000 word blog post.

Edit Later

After you get the words done, then you edit. And like I mentioned above, I had to get everything out of my head before I could shape it.

Editing is like shaping a clay pot on a wheel, and writing is like generating the clay. This is an imperfect metaphor, so stick with me.

Once you have enough clay to make something, you can shape it into a bowl or teapot or some kind of vase. And I couldn’t do any shaping until I could tell what kind of clay I was working with.

Writing first allowed me to get into the state of flow and get words out of my head quickly and easily. Editing once the writing was done meant I didn’t have to interrupt that creative headspace and I could basically batch tasks by doing all the writing at once, and all the editing at once.

The inner editor is a lot different from the writer. They are critical and they’re looking for mistakes. The writer is a silly heart with tons of ideas. I think they’re very good friends, but they don’t like to work together, you know?

So in order to get the most out of my writing time, I edit later because it means I get the writing done when I’m in the writing frame of mind, and I do the editing when I’m in the editing frame of mind.

If you’ve ever wondered what does an editor do, it’s very simple. They eviscerate the work a writer does. In a good way. It’s the sort of constructive evisceration we all need.

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But if you’re editing your own stuff, you can’t eviscerate if the body of writing is too small. It won’t be able to take the abuse. That’s why you have to write first, edit later.

Write when you write. Edit when you edit. Click To Tweet

Write First, Edit Later

Whether your interested in learning how to write 10,000 words a day, looking for a good writing routine, or you want to knock your first blog post out of the park, you need to write first, edit later.

Write when you’re writing. Edit when you’re editing. Give yourself the freedom to get into whatever task you’re doing.

Sure, you can edit as you go. But if you do and find that it takes you forever to get work done, it’s because no one can really multitask like that.

So the next time you sit down to write, grab a timer, set it, and sprint until the end. That means you just keep writing until the timer goes off. You’ll find that you’ve done a significant amount of writing. And yes, it will need to be edited.

But that’s okay, because we write first, edit later.

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