I've just finished a paper read (as opposed to a screen read) of TWSP Part 1 and learned some valuable lessons. It has taken me a year to write the 160-odd pages I've just read, and that's far too long for anyone hoping to earn a living as a writer. That time wasn't entirely spent in drafting though. I draft at a respectable pace; I can put down 1000 words a day easily, and that's a sustainable level of work for a novelist. The problem has been the amount of time I've spent editing the manuscript along the way.
First, there was the initial edit of the previous day's work. Then there was the edit I did at the end of each chapter scene. After that came the chapter edit and the final edit I did of Part 1 over the last two weeks. Each of these entailed a plotting component to ferret out story problems and a mechanics component to look for sentence-level issues. Honestly, for every hour I spent putting words on the page, I spent another six to ten looking back at them.
Those of you with more tenure in the industry are wincing right now, I just know it. But to those of you who aren't, here are the more subtle problems inherent to that approach beyond the obvious issue of time-sink:
First: It doesn't help. By the time you get to the end of a chapter, act or novel, you'll have major editing to do no matter how much you've already done. Stories are living things. They change while you're writing them, and if you're doing your job well, your ability improves in the telling. So it really is better to wait until you've reached a major crossroads in your work to look back at where you've been.
Second: It can hurt. Micro-edits can destroy continuity at all levels of writing; novel, chapter, paragraph and sentence. Yes, that level of editing has to be done, but it doesn't have to be done over and over again. If you're looking at each sentence of your work that much, you're just not seeing it, and your changes to phraseology and word flow can actually detract from the draft you originally wrote. Your right-brain knew what it was doing. Don't let your left-brain interfere too much.
Third: You might lose the story. When you take so much time to edit your work in between drafting sessions, you can forget where you were, who was supposed to be doing what, and why. Yes, you should have an outline, but remember that your story is alive and will want to go places your outline didn't. If you're hyper-editing, you might lose your opportunity to explore those new trails.
Why did I do it? Well, I'm a perfectionist, and I wanted my story to be 'right'. I wanted it to sell, and I've never written or sold a novel before, so I was worried. I know from writing and selling short stories that these are common sentiments among writers, but I've learned that they can get in the way of the process. So I'm writing this article in the hope you won't go down the road I did. There's nothing but bog that way.
What now? Well, I've promised myself that I'll eliminate daily editing and scene editing altogether. I'll only read a chapter once when I'm finished with it, and only to make macro-edits for the sake of plot, setting, characters, etc. before putting it aside. At the end of an act, I'll do the same. When I finish the novel, I'll tuck in and streamline evenly across the board on the macro-level and micro-levels before sending it off. We'll see how it goes, and I'll try to remember to write about that success when I've achieved it.
So my heart goes out to you fellow perfectionists who labor so lovingly over your words, but remember that if they were children, they'd accuse you of smothering them. Give those babies some room to breathe.