Stages of Writing: Freestyle Writing vs. Rewriting vs. Editing

Writing-StagesThe first thing to learn in the writing journey is that not all writing is the same. There are several types or stages of writing, and each of them requires a certain mindset and set of skills to accomplish them. And just because you’re good at one type of writing, doesn’t make you good at the other types, and making the transitions to each can be difficult to accomplish or there might be difficulty in determining when to make the transition.

Freestyle Writing
This is the kind of writing most people assume writers do (but in reality it’s just the first step in a larger process). It’s the fun stuff. The part were you let everything just explode out of your head and onto the page. It’s an everything goes kind of thing where no idea is a bad idea and anything can happen. It can be a most uplifting experience, especially if you’ve done a lot of thinking about the story before ever placing pen to paper. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. It’s where that thing called a writer’s high happens, and it’s a great place to be!

This writing stage doesn’t require a whole lot of special knowledge. Just an idea of what makes a good story, what makes compelling characters, and how to write a beginning, middle and end of a story. Much of this can be learned simply by being an avid reader, or taking some writing workshops on story structure and character development.

Rewriting
Want to know what coming to a screeching stop while going full speed ahead on a great story feels like? Just start rewriting. That will put a crimp in best laid plans. Switching gears isn’t easy. It’s a whole new level of writing, and it takes a completely different state of mind and level of skills to do it. This part of the writing journey requires deep thought, getting into a character’s head to figure out if those high flying ideas actually work. It’s a kick in the pants to discover that many of the ideas actually suck (quite terribly sometimes), but a real coup when you finally (after lots of head banging on the wall) find that missing link that makes everything fit together just right. It makes that writer’s high feel like a kiddy ride.

The best way to make the transition from the freestyle writing stage to the rewriting stage is to not start rewriting until the WHOLE first draft is completed. Switching back and forth between freestyle writing and rewriting in one story is a quick way to a headache (and the beginning of insanity). Also the time it takes (it can take anywhere from a few days or weeks to make the appropriate “mental” adjustment) to switch from one stage to the next will slow the writing process down considerably, and even lead to unnecessary frustration and potentially to writer’s block. Even if it’s a small section. Just make a note of the changes you want to make and keep going. Be smart and just don’t do it. No matter how badly you want to, because you know you’ll want to.

This stage of writing requires a great deal of knowledge, as this is when all those things like pacing, story conflict, natural dialogue, getting the right point of view, ect. is essential. All of this can also be learned from reading lots and lots, writing workshops and books, and also loads of practice. Another tricky part of this stage is finding the right melding of ideas and characters. This only comes with experience. The more you write, the better you get. So don’t fret over rewriting a scene ten or twenty times. Sometimes that is what it takes, and other times it’s a matter of deciding to move on to the next stage.

Editing
The transition from rewriting to editing (or the final polish stage) isn’t quite as bad a transition, but it is the most difficult to determine when to make that transition. Let’s face it. Nothing is perfect. No story without it’s flaws. At some point the story must be determined “finished” or you will discover a whole new meaning of insanity. It’s not pretty, and I’m pretty sure padded walls and straight jackets are involved. Don’t go there. It really isn’t worth it. So before you get started on version nine hundred and twelve, call it done and get started on the editing stage of the writing process.

Editing is something that should be done LAST. Not during the first draft, second, or even third. Tempted to go back and fix something, or worrying about whether a word is spelled right? Want to go back and fix all those missing commas and grammar mistakes? Or maybe you’ve decided to change your character’s name from George to Harry. Or that high speed car chase really needs to happen at night instead of day. DON’T! Really, just don’t do it. The process will only slow you down and drive frustration levels to new dizzying heights. Make a note or highlight a section if you really must, but don’t stop. Don’t worry about the little things, they can be fixed later.

This stage of writing is perhaps the easiest to learn, because it’s not quite as subjective as some of the other areas of writing. This is because the English language has rules, which must be followed (usually). You probably already have a good basis of this knowledge through grade school and/or college. But it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the rules of editing every now and again through online classes or grammar books. Sure there are rules, but there are always the exceptions to those rules too, and remembering them all just isn’t that practical.

Writing isn’t without it’s downs, but usually the ups make it more than worth the journey. Just realize that not every moment of writing can be deemed fun, or even pleasant. Know also that you might be stronger in one stage of the process than others. Like anything worth while, writing takes work, and lots of it. The best way to finish a story is to just do it, and one day you might find that you’ve become a little bit better at making the transition from one stage of writing to the next, and that stage you used to struggle with seems to get a little bit easier to do.

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7 thoughts on “Stages of Writing: Freestyle Writing vs. Rewriting vs. Editing

  1. This was really helpful; it gave me a much clearer idea of where I am in the writing process.

    I knew about free writing and editing stages, but I’d never realised re-writing was a separate stage before.

    • Glad to hear it! Yes, when writing the edges can blur as to what kind of writing is actually being done. Its so easy to be rewriting, when really we should be finishing the first draft, or editing when all the rewriting isn’t done quite yet. Knowing where we are in the writing process, can help keep us focused on what really needs to be done.

  2. I always kind of liked the rewriting phase of things. As much fun as the writing is, at the rewriting point I actually know what I want the story to be and I can really see it coming together as I’m working on it, which is exciting. For me, it’s a lot of getting all the pieces I threw out in the first draft into the right places.

    I’d also highly recommend getting another set of eyes in for the editing stage. Once you have the story where you want it, a second set of eyes can really help pick out the grammar and grammar you’ve missed, or point out the weird uses of language that just don’t work.

    • I completely agree! I used to love the freestyle writing, but since I’ve started a larger project (my novel) I’ve discovered the rewriting stage is really the greatest part of writing. It’s about hammering out those ideas. What once were lofty thoughts become real ideas that actually work. It’s also fun to discover the thrill of finding a solution to a problem that just didn’t seem quite right the first time around (or second, or third). I’ve learned that rewriting is a study of discipline and determination. It’s hard road to walk, but one that bears the best fruits.

      Yes! I have beta readers that read after each draft of my stories (or novel drafts). Some of the people overlap, but I try to get at least one fresh prospective each read. It makes all the difference in the world, and makes it easier for the next rewrite to know where to focus more attention.

  3. Very cool!!

    Quick question for you – on our writing club I went back and made the changes suggested by the group.

    Would you suggest I write everything first (which would take a while) – and then go back and make changes? I was originally thinking that doing the writing 3000 words at a time in the New Writing, First pass edit – Present to group – 2nd pass edit – would help me get better faster.

    • Ultimately, you need to find the rhythm that works best for you, and what works well now may not work well later. Though as a rule, you should not go back to edit before the WHOLE first draft is completed (yes, all the way to the last scene of the story). If you do, expect to get caught up in the rewrite cycle that lands you rewriting a section of scenes over and over and over again, and you never actually finish the story. It’s a frustrating place to be. Usually what I do is I make notes on changes that I want to make and move on. Though doing a LIGHT edit might be okay, but even that is a slippery slope. Then again, all writers are different. Do what works for you, and be willing to be flexible enough to change your own “writing system” because it will change as you make process in the writing journey.

      As far as getting better faster as a writer, the best way to do that is to work on short stories. The shorter the better. It helps you to see a finished piece faster and it helps you work on your writing from the start to the finish of a story. It took me 6 months to get the first draft of my novel done from start to finish, and even then I was unhappy with it. But in that time, I also wrote three short stories from start to finish too. For some it’s hard to make the transition from novel to short story, but the more you do it the easier it gets, and the faster you will grow as a writer.

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