Keeping Momentum With the Rolling Edit by Devin Ganger

We have all heard the advice: when you write, don’t edit; when you edit, don’t write. Start fresh every day.

This separation of writing and editing, as close to an absolute as writing advice gets, is passed around in many different forms. It is even a core of the 85K Writing Challenge — write your draft now in the first 90 days of the year, come back and edit later.

But what if you get a great idea on Day 23 that means you need to re-write previous work?

“Make note of it now and go back during your edit phase,” we are told. What if you have a hard time starting fresh every day? For many of us, getting back in the groove can be difficult.

The answer may be to violate the hard divide between writing and editing in a small way.

Noted fantasy author Dennis L. McKiernan recently shared with me a technique he calls the “rolling edit.”

Start each day by editing the previous day’s work — and only the previous day’s work. As this becomes your habit, he says, your writing gets better and smoother. You give your brain a chance to solve any lingering issues while resting overnight, returning to the draft with a fresh view. You also immerse yourself back into your previous state of flow. When you get to the end of the previous day’s work, you should be able to move smoothly into new content for today without breaking stride at all.

With nothing to lose, I gave it a try.

I was able to finish two short stories I had been struggling with and start a new novel. If I’m in Word, I simply have a special mark I put in place to let me know where I started the previous day. In Scrivener, I use a new document for the day’s writing, and once I’ve finished editing it the next day I move it into its proper place in the Binder.

Do you have trouble getting the ball rolling every day?

If so, give the rolling edit a try. Let me know how it works for you!

– Devin

About Devin Ganger

Devin is a professional messaging architect and IT consultant. He has written multiple books, chapters, white papers, and blog posts. He is currently working on fiction projects. Say hello to Devin in the comment section below or visit his 85K Writing Challenge member profile page.

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Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from first word to first reader.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Momentum With the Rolling Edit by Devin Ganger

  1. I try not to edit my previous efforts much (if at all) during the first draft stage, but I do think any technique to get us moving with the day’s writing is useful. I do like the idea of stopping where you know exactly what needs to happen next, and/or figuring out what the next day’s scene needs to achieve. I’ve never tried stopping in the middle of a sentence, though: I think I’m a bit too OCD for that!

  2. I agree — I could never stop in the middle of a sentence! At the very least, a paragraph plus some notes on where to go next.

    I didn’t think I was going to like the rolling edit when Dennis described it to me, but I tried it, and now I think it’s an essential part of my toolkit. For me it is that perfect balance between the ease of editing (I can *always* find something to change) and the need to reload my mental state so I can get back into the flow of writing. Having the hard-and-fast rule of “only the previous day’s work” gives my internal editor the boundary I need to make the editing helpful instead of distracting. However, there are as many ways to write as there are writers!

    Thanks for your comment, and good luck!

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