How Much Should I Edit as I Write?

In her recent piece on good confessional writing in Slate, Katie Roiphe included this note about Joan Didion’s writing process:

Joan Didion, one of the most admired personal writers in American prose, said this extraordinary thing in a Paris Review interview: “When I am working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm. Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won’t go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to go to page one again and start rewriting. At the end of the day, I mark up the pages I’ve done—pages or page—all the way back to page one.”

My rule has always been to start a first-draft writing session with re-editing of the previous days work – but I’ve tried to institute a 5-page rule. (Maybe 10). I’ve always considered going back further than that during the first-draft period indulgent procrastination, even though on the way to proof I tend to line edit my pieces dozens of times, rewriting and writing sentences to get the timing right.

For most writers, getting the full first draft down is the most important first threshold. That said, Didion is one of my favorite prose stylists–her exactitude sings on every page.

    This entry was posted in Writing Process. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.