Write First, Edit Later to Finish Your Nonfiction Book Fast

Don't edit while you write if you want to finish your nonficiton book.You may have heard about your Inner Child. Maybe you’ve even heard of your Inner Parent. Did you know you also have an Inner Editor?

Sometimes also called the Inner Critic, the name you give this “other self” makes no difference; its function remains the same. It finds mistakes in what you write and pushes you to fix them—NOW—before you write another word

Your Inner Editor causes you to continually go back over every sentence and fix it before you move forward to the next one. It makes you pore over the first paragraph to every book you begin before it allows you to write the next paragraph and to get in the flow of writing the whole manuscript. It requires you to print out the work you’ve completed and to edit the hard copy every day, making sure everything is correct in what you’ve already written before you start on any new content.

Editing has its place in the book-writing process—after you’ve written your whole manuscript. If you allow your Inner Editor to join you daily in your book writing endeavors, each day you perfect a lot of what you’ve already written but you don’t produce a lot of additional material. Your writing periods primarily become editing periods.

The Inner Editor serves you well when you want to check your grammar or punctuation or find typos in your book manuscript; this is most necessary at the end of the book-writing process. When you want to write your book, however, your Inner Editor can be deterrent to the writing process and can become a distracting writing partner. In fact, it can stop your fingers from hitting a key and keep you staring at the screen indefinitely. Or it can keep you continuously looping back to fix errors rather than moving forward by producing more content.

Quieting the Inner Editor

If you want to get your book written—and written quickly, you must quiet (or even silence) your Inner Editor until you’ve written the first draft of your book. You have to give yourself permission to write schlock the first time around without sensing any type of judgment. It’s important to feel you can just dump your thoughts on the paper, especially if you are a first-time writer.

Of course, it’s better to turn out great copy the first time around. And good planning prior to writing your book will help you do that. Even if you’ve planned out the content for your book in fine detail, you may find yourself staring at the page and feeling stuck because you think the manuscript you produce must be brilliant.

No. The first draft does not have to be brilliant. That idea is what creates writer’s block. Don’t go there. Don’t allow performance anxiety or fear of not being a good enough writer or having enough to say (or any other such thoughts) get in your way. This is your Inner Editor standing over your shoulder and whispering in your ear.

Instead have a National-Novel-Writing-Month (NaNoWriMo) attitude. During NaNoWriMo, thousands of novelists write 50,000 words in 30 days. They write fast and furiously. And they don’t care if the manuscript they produce is lousy. It’s a first draft. They can fix it in December. That’s when the editing process begins—and when the Inner Editor can take over the job. I run a similar even during November called National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), or Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN); writers produce a work of nonfiction in 30 days as well—some with the same type of attitude.

5-Steps for Writing First, Editing Later

To write first and edit later, thus getting your book manuscript written without interference from your Inner Editor, try this five-step process:

  1. Give yourself a deadline—such as 30,000 words in 30 days. That’s 4 pages per day, or 1,000 words per day. Alternatively, you can just have a word count per day (for example, 500 words per day) or a long-term deadline (for example, finish your book by March 30, 2013).
  2. Create a daily writing time. Actually schedule this on your calendar. If you miss a day or fall behind, have a “make-up time” when you actually produce the missing word count for the week or generally catch up.
  3. Use timed writing periods. Get an egg timer or some other type of timer. Lots of free timers are available for computers, like Cool Timer, which is what I use. Set the timer for 30 minutes or one hour—whatever time period you have chosen.
  4. Write fast. When the timed writing period begins, write as fast as you can. Do not let your fingers pause over the keys for more than a few seconds. Don’t let your Inner Critic have time to get a word in edgewise. This exercise is about content creation. You must write; you must create new content at all costs—even if it isn’t great. You’ll fix it later, if need be.
  5. Don’t stop to research. If you find yourself hesitating because you think you need information or pausing to go look for something on the Internet, this could be your Inner Editor (or Inner Critic) saying you aren’t good enough, don’t know enough, aren’t an expert, or need to improve your writing with more information or data. (You might actually need some facts or quotes to back up what you have written, though.) Don’t stop writing. Instead, put a note in your content that indicates the need for research. For instance, you can use brackets and make a note to yourself about what research is necessary at that point in your manuscript. Highlight it so it’s easy to find later.

How to write nonfiction faster.

When to Listen to the Inner Editor

Once you have completed your first draft, it’s time to ask your Inner Editor to come back and join you. Now you want feedback on your grammar and punctuation. It’s also the appropriate time for input on flow, sentence construction, and even the entire content and structure of your book.

That said, you must know when to tell your Inner Editor when enough is enough. Some writers don’t become authors because their manuscripts remain unfinished and unpublished. They never feel their work is complete—or perfect. You have to be able to say, “Done.”

The first time you say that comes when you hand the manuscript over to a professional editor. Every writer needs a professional editor; your Inner Editor will not suffice as your only editor. Once the professional editor or editors (you may need more than one) complete their work and you make the changes they suggest, you will then again says, Done,” and go on to hire a professional proofreader. When that job has been completed, you can officially and adamantly say, “DONE.”

If your Inner Editor says something different, politely (or not so politely), say, “Be quiet.”

Then send your manuscript off for conversion or to whatever service you plan to use to help you get your book uploaded and distributed to as many ereaders as possible.

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  1. Thanks Nina. This is great advice. This is one of my struggles in writing. I am a perfectionist so I end up getting nothing done. I write one sentence then go back and delete it and before you know it I give up. I will take your advice. Thanks a lot! Love your page!

    • Amy,
      So glad you found this post helpful. I use these methods all the time. It’s how I get so much done. My current class, Author Training 101, is reading beta chapters of my new book…they can tell you they aren’t perfect! I just sit down and write. I edit once and send them off for them to look at. I literally didn’t have time to do more. Now I’ll go back and start revising. :~)

  2. Sent you the wrong email. oops Amy This is the correct one.

  3. I do not necessarily agree with this approach to writing. I felt strongly enough to create an entire blog post about why writing schlock, or as others call it “vomit drafts” is not the best course of action. I completely agree that writers should discipline themselves through timed writing to force themselves to write instead of hanging around social media. However, I do not agree that writing should be forced just for the sake of getting it done and going back to fix it later on if need be. To me, that is a recipe for pure writing. In my blog post (link below), I offer an alternative to producing schlock – – focusing on passion first.

    • Amanda,
      I heartily agree that writing from passion is the way to go, but professional writers and those who are on deadline don’t always have the choice to wait until passion hits if that day they just don’t feel it. And too many writers who are perfectionists or who let their Inner Editors get hold of them daily simply do not get their writing finished because they spend more time editing than writing. That’s also why NaNoWriMo suggests just getting the draft done in 30 days. I”m not saying produce schlock and publish it. Just get the draft done. You can always hone it once you have something to work with. If you never produce a draft, you won’t ever finish. And again, if you have an editor waiting or a deadline, you have to learn to write first, edit later–or produce clean copy the first time around. I don’t know too many writers who can do that.

  4. Apologize – – I meant to say a “recipe for pure disaster.”

  5. Great advice. I also have an inner editor that comes out the second I start writing anything at all. I have learned to silence it to a certain degree but it is definitely hard work.

    • Debbie,
      Have you found some other methods that work for you that I haven’t mentioned? Love to hear them… Thanks for read my blog and taking the time to comment.

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