Who Doesn’t Watch The Writers?

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is to not write and edit at the same time; and both scientific studies on the parallel use of different areas of the brain and anecdotal evidence of increased speed, word-counts, and other measures seem to justify its ubiquity. I have certainly produced more since I moved editing to after my first drafts were finished. However, it is trickier than it seems; in what was an entirely unintended demonstration, I changed several words in this paragraph before I had finished writing it. One of the common suggestions to overcome this desire to not leave work without a flaw for even a moment, is to write without being able to see what you are writing. But this can be counter productive.

I was sent a link to ilys beta earlier today. It is a browser-based program that allows you to set a word count, then prevents you from editing until you have reached your target. Which sounded great. However, the user interface is a text box which only displays the character most recently typed. So, when I was distracted by something outside my control (the doorbell), I could not re-read the last few words to pick up where I was.

Laptop Baby
I think you mean your inner critic is infantile not infuntile
Paul InklesCC BY 2.0)

For me this made it less useful than simply turning my monitor off, which replicates the same inability to see whether there are any mistakes, with other advantages:

  • I can choose to refresh my memory if I have to leave the screen.

  • I can choose to look if I have to end a session before I reach my word count.

  • I need only my computer to do it, rather than needing an internet connection that remains fast enough to keep up with my typing.

But turning my monitor off does not really work for me either. If I cannot see the words, I cannot see the errors. But I also cannot see how much I have written. When writing I judge my progress not by a word count in the bottom corner, but by how full the page looks: scrolling over the end of the first page feels like progress; noticing the scroll bar marker is compressed feels like progress.

Without any visual my inner critic is free to riff on purposelessness; to take full advantage of the visual of writing without any visible result.

There is also a hidden cost. Over several years I have taught myself to touch type. One of the key techniques for improving your speed is not looking at the keyboard. If I do not have the text appearing on the screen to watch, the movement of my fingers below my eye line starts to draw my attention. I begin to type by looking for each key again, which slows me down more than going back to correct typos would.

So, for me, not being able to see whether I have made any mistakes is actually less productive than occasionally being overcome with the desire to fix a typo or infelicitous phrase instead of writing new words.

Have you tried writing without being able to see the results?

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10 thoughts on “Who Doesn’t Watch The Writers?

  1. Interesting. I agree that not being able to see my writing would slow me down. At this point I both write and draw looking at the screen, not at what my hands are doing. Having been a writing tutor and worked with many English professors and writers I have to say that not editing as you go is not really the same as repairing small errors in the process. Reading the work and considering it changes what you are writing, you write and edit in your mind as you consider your work and your thoughts. I think it is a more complicated process than the do not edit as you write statement implies.

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    1. I think it is a balancing act: stopping to consider whether or not to make a change every time you notice a possible error would be more disruptive than just fixing spelling mistakes; but switching from writing to editing does break your momentum. So, you need a dividing line, as close as possible to the state where the drag of believing their is an error is equal to the drag of stopping to re-read and edit.

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  2. To me, there’s editing and there’s editing. I think minor fixing of grammar, word choice, essentially copy editing on steroids, can well be put off, but there are times when a story threatens to run off to distant lands without you if you don’t intervene. For example, let’s say that in the throes of creative ecstasy, you make a character jump off a cliff as a crucial turning point, oblivious to the fact that he would never do such a thing, and, besides, the way you’ve set things up, you’re going to need him desperately later on, or introduce a mysterious heretofore unknown twin. I like to review what’s been written already before each day’s binge. This assures consistency, as I often catch minor problems which could become huge later if not repaired. On the other hand, no one’s ever heard of me, especially the Nobel committee. 😉

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  3. I am good at touch typing, and can do it without thinking. Most of my writing is done while commuting. I have found I often write best on the bus with my eyes closed and headphones on. I check the screen now and then to make sure the words have been captured properly (sometimes, a bump on the road leads me to misplace a cursor).
    I think its good to let errors and mistakes go by, but sometimes the editor needs to be consulted. Similar to Mikele Skele, I have found myself staring at a scene or turning point debating if I’ve made the right move. I would rather take a little time to consider what several paths can lead to and then proceed, than write the rest of the novel and realize I should have turned back miles ago.

    I consider it the difference between drafting and polishing

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      1. Even when I outline, the story can take an interesting turn. To me, that’s part of the creative process. You think you’re going to destination A, when you realize that destination A no longer fits what you’ve written. That’s where veering off and taking jumps needs to be done.

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        1. How do you judge – without following the veer to its end – when it is a good deviation? I tend to always go with them because – for me – being pulled away from my outline almost always turns out to produce a better story than my first idea.

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  4. I can’t do it. I cannot write without some editing. Just as I type a word, usually a preposition, I realise it’s the wrong one. If I see spelling mistakes I leave them they can be fixed later. As someone above said, there’s editing and there’s editing. I’m a panster so I never know what my fingers will type

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