May The Muse Win: How To Break The Destructive Habit Of Editing While Writing

Akshata Shanbhag 06-11-2014

Struggling to write? Your muse is not playing hard to get. She’s only trying to avoid coming face to face with that editor who lives inside your brain.


Edit-as-you-write, while the default mode for many of us, is capable of doing more harm than good. It pairs the creative act of writing with the conservative act of editing — a destructive combination, because one needs a freeing of mental reins to thrive while the other insists on tightening them. Both writing and editing call for different approaches and input from different parts of your brain.

That’s why it’s recommended that you separate these activities. Wear one (metaphorical) hat, take it off when it’s time, and then wear the other.

First Drafts First

The first draft of any piece of writing is not about writing well. It’s about the ideas behind your words, and not about how your words look or sound. Bring any and all ideas to the fore, uncensored.


If you find it difficult to stifle the voice of your inner critic by yourself, let the following tips and tools do that for you.


Set Up A Timer

Writing to the tune of a timer creates a sense of urgency. There’s no time to fix typos or rethink phrases when you have to finish so many words in so many minutes. Fire up a distraction-free writing app WriteApp: Is This The Distraction Free Online Writing Tool You Were Looking For? There are a few things I ask of any writing application or a text editor. Yes, it should be minimal but it should have a few features to aid the words I key into the... Read More , set a timer, and get working on that first draft. Wrap up your research and have a mental outline ready beforehand. You don’t want to be at a loss for information in the midst of your writing session.

When it comes to timers, the choice is yours. Even a kitchen timer or the alarm clock in your cellphone will do. I wrote the first draft of this article using a simple Pomodoro extension for Chrome called Toma Timer. Here at MakeUseOf we’re in love with the simplicity and efficiency of the Pomodoro technique and have covered Pomodoro apps for different platforms Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More .


Allow Yourself To Make Mistakes

Spelling mistakes, missing or erroneous punctuation, the wrong choice of word or phrase, etc. catch your eye instantly, even when you’re making zero effort to look for them. The temptation to go back and correct these anomalies right away is strong. If you follow up on that instinct, you disrupt your flow and lose your train of thought, and you don’t want that.


Before you begin to write, give yourself permission to make mistakes. Focus solely upon transferring what’s in your mind to the canvas before you. The “fixing” part can come later. First drafts are never perfect and nor are they meant to be.

Don’t Pick Up Where You Left Off

When you’re writing in chunks or are working on something that’s part of a whole, you tend to go back and skim through the latest blocks of text, editing things here and there. Only after that you turn your attention to writing the next chunk. This picking up where you left off creates more problems than it solves. It brings out that critical-thinking side of you once again — the one that forces you to wonder if what you’re writing now is consistent with what you have written before. If it isn’t, you’re back to editing as you write to iron out the perceived inconsistencies.


It’s best to begin with a blank page every time, every day, and deal with the flaws in your writing after you’re done with it. Having sufficient gap between writing and editing is vital. It gives you fresh eyes and allows you to see your words from a new perspective.


Let An App Do The Dirty Work For You

Instead of using up your precious will power, hand over control of your writing to an app and do its bidding. Try one of the following edit-lock editors that can help break the editing-while-you-write habit. Their strategy is simple. They take away your editing privileges till you’re done writing.


What if you couldn’t see what you were writing? I bet that would force your inner critic to shut up and let you write in peace. That’s the idea behind BlindWrite, a simple text editor that gives you only a blank screen to work with. Of course, this method works only if you have a fair grasp of touch typing. Otherwise you’ll end up with gibberish that will leave even your smart inner editor stumped.


When you open the app’s Web page, it asks you to enter the topic you want to write about and the duration you want to write for. That’s it. The screen stays blank even as you type. Don’t worry. Your text is all there, hidden behind a barely visible veil of blurred gray. Once your time’s up, all of the text becomes visible automatically and you can take stock of what you have written.




ilys found a mention as a simple edit-lock tool in Joel’s post in 13 browser-based tools for writers 13 Browser-Based Tools For Writers Whether you need help with organization or a clean slate on which to write your words, these tools will prove useful to all of you who write on a regular basis. Don't miss out! Read More . When you open the Web app, it asks you for a target word count. Set that and start writing in the box that comes up. Interestingly, in the writing mode, your text appears one character at a time, which takes a little getting used to at first.


You can view what you have written by clicking on the eye icon at the bottom of the box, but you can’t edit a single word unless you have reached your target. Ony then you get access to the editing mode.

To learn more about the app, click on the What’s ilys? dropdown at the bottom of the home page. If you like the app, keep an eye out for its Pro version, which is said to be in the works.



The Earnest writing app takes its no-editing policy seriously. You can’t edit a tiny bit of what you have written. Your writing is auto-saved every ten seconds. You can create multiple documents, and all of them get backed up to your computer locally, which means no signups are required.


Visit and hit START WRITING to open the editor. The interface is minimal, which is just as it should be when you’re intent only on getting words out onto the screen. A discreet grey background with a three-option menu and a word count indicator is all you’ll see. You don’t even need to enter a name for your document. It is automatically named after the first few words of your text. Your past documents are available in the History section.


First Draft

At first glance, First Draft appears as a stark naked page adorned only with a blinking cursor, a Save icon, and a tiny popup that politely reminds you that first drafts are shit anyway. What are you waiting for? Start typing.

At any given time, you can see only the latest ten lines of the document you are working on. Options like viewing the entire document, switching to a dark background, and saving your draft are available in a dropdown menu hidden within the floppy disk icon at the top right.


Your draft is made available for editing in Google Docs when you hit Finish Draft. The good news is that your text is not locked into Google Docs. If you don’t own a Google account, you can just edit the text within the open document and either download it in a suitable format or copy-paste it into a text editor of your choice. In any case, your documents are backed up in your browser.

If you need something more feature-rich than the apps listed here and are willing to spend some cash, the Windows/Mac/Linux app Write or Die 2 is worth checking out. It takes a personalized rewards-or-consequences approach to ensure that your writing sessions are productive.


Keep The Editor Out, For Now

The muse versus critic battle holds good for any creative activity. At the fluid, idea-gathering stage, the muse deserves to win. Give her the advantage by making the critic powerless. In the case of writing, that means putting words to screen without fiddling with facts, style, or presentation, to get the first (guaranteed to be bad) draft out of the way. Now go tackle NaNoWriMo Complete NaNoWriMo 2014 With Time Management Tricks & Distraction-Free Apps Completing NaNoWriMo is tough, and requires strict self-discipline. It also helps if you have some really good tools at your disposal to make life easier on you and the characters you create… Read More or some personal writing challenge, minus your inner critic of course.

Do you edit while you write? If not, how do you keep yourself from doing that? Share your tips in the comments.

Image Credits: Open magazine Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Text Editor, Writing Tips.

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  1. Anonymous
    September 28, 2015 at 9:21 am

    These tips are really helpful. Thx a lot!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      September 28, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Super! You're welcome, Catherine :)

  2. Anonymous
    September 28, 2015 at 9:19 am

    I find these tips pretty helpful actually. I can speak to myself about some subjects for hours easily, but struggle to write down everything I want. I noticed that the problem was I tried to do it perfectly from the scratch and spent a lot of time correcting those few lines over an over again. I feel that I just need to let my thought flow on the paper but cannot always do it. Recently I've read an article about argumentative essays writing on, it explains a lot of things that were not clearly understandable for me. Now I manage to write double what I used to.
    Thanks for your tips! I really appreciate that.
    Best regards.

    - Catherine

  3. Jorge
    November 11, 2014 at 4:50 am

    I don't know if anyone noticed, but when writing on Blindwrite, if you select all the text with Ctrl+A, you can see everything you wrote. Big fail.

  4. Jessica C
    November 9, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Wow, long comments on this article. No surprises you got the responses of passionate writers, Akshata!

    I think it's important to try out new techniques from time to time, see what works well for you, and what works well for certain kinds of writing. I've been meaning to try writing-without-editing for a while (though I do love editing-while-writing), so this roundup might give me the motivation to give it a shot.

    • Akshata
      November 9, 2014 at 7:55 am

      That I have, Jessica! There's definitely no one-size-fits-all when it comes to our workflows. Experimentation is what works best. In the long run there's no point sticking with something if it's not working well for you, but it's at least worth trying for a few days or weeks. You just might be surprised.

      I resisted separating my writing and editing sessions for a long time. But once I did, the words flowed more easily because I was free to make plenty of mistakes along the way, as long as I learned to be strict with my editing. Looking forward to hearing about the results of your writing-without-editing experiments.

  5. ThrillWriter
    November 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    thank you for this list. I tend to have a story in mind, and then after writing the first paragraph, I'll go back to edit, and get stuck striving for perfection. It's not *just* that I end the day with 200 words - I end with 200 words, having forgotten the rest of the story I want to tell.

    So yes, this is useful to me. And to many others. Not every creative writer finds it better to edit as they write, no matter how eloquently some people claim they do. I'd rather count myself in with the likes of STEPHEN KING, RAY BRADBURY, and MARK TWAIN, and just focus on getting my story out first. "You can't edit what you haven't written."

    Again, Thank you for these resources to help me. :)

  6. Bigg Buoy
    November 8, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Hey everyone,
    I have been writing a couple of paragraphs and then going back to edit for all my life. Whether this is technical stuff, letters, journals, short stories or anything else. Thats the way I do it, and it works for me. Let's not get too obsessed with using these writing apps just because they are there, if you like it then use it. Most writers don't like it and therefore don't use it.

  7. Robyn
    November 6, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    By and large, I agree with Dragonmouth, even as I acknowledge the need for others to silence their inner critic. Creative writing is solo work, even when working with a collaborator. Each writer has to come up with what works for him or herself as an individual. While it's true that many people - Twain and Bradbury among them - recommended strongly that the first draft be pushed out as quickly as possible and then edited, there are many among us who prefer to edit as we write.

    For many writers, the most important thing is plot. For me, it's flow. I edit as I write to maintain the flow, the feeling, the atmosphere I'm aiming to communicate. As someone who spent 25 years writing technical pieces, I doubt it's possible for me to avoid editing as I go. At this point, I don't want to. I have incorporated it into my process and I make it an asset, not a burden.

    If I wrote the first draft without editing, I might get more words down on a daily basis, but I don't measure my work by word count. I may only get a couple of thousand words done per day, but if they flow well and say what I wanted to say, then I consider I have done good work.

    In the end, each writer must find their own process; what satisfies them, what brings them joy while they are working. Without the joy of the process - whatever that process is - a writer is just a word factory.

  8. Maryon Jeane
    November 6, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Oh wow - I've just written a short-but-tricky proposal at a blisteringly fast speed with BlindWrite!

    This, for me, is definitely the way to go with semi-creative stuff where it's just a question of blasting through and then tweaking later. Obviously there's no temptation to re-read or rewrite (you have to go right up to the top of the document and click on a small icon to see what you've written), so you just get on with it and get it all down - and against the clock because you have to state at the outset how long you're going to take. When the time's up, all your words are revealed!

    When you've got to get certain things across to someone (such as with a proposal) and so you need to get everything down, and you also need to 'pitch'), this is the way to go. At least for me. Tricky letters, accounts of telephone calls, court documents - that sort of thing.

    I still don't think it quite works for the completely creative writing process, but perhaps a first draft of the outline of a chapter? Anyway I'm going to play with it - what fun!

  9. Maryon Jeane
    November 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I absolutely agree with this concept, Akshata. This dichotomy between the critical and creative functions (what used to be thought of as left brain/right brain) can really interfere with actually getting creative work from concept to finished creation.

    When I came out of teaching I found that this too interferes with what a teacher actually does themself, that is to say if you are an art teacher (I wasn't but I have friends who were) then this can seriously inhibit your own creativity in that field because of the constant analysis and criticism which is part of the teaching process.

    I've tried out a couple of the programs you mention here (but not BlindWrite, which I find a highly exciting idea and am going to try it out immediately after writing this!), but finally settled on Q10, which I love. You choose what you have showing on the screen (I have a wordcount, the name of the file on which I'm working (with its full path), and the time in digital format) - and you can even decide the size of the bar which shows these items. You can choose not only the font but also the colour of the font and the background screen colour - and not from just a basic palette but can mix your own colours; this is not academic or a frivolous tweak, it really matters. The colours you use to write affects the creative process, quite apart from it often being necessary to change colours according to the ambient light conditions and colours.

    With Q10 everything you need is just a keystroke combination away (F1 brings up the menu if you can't remember the combination you want), and there is an inbuilt timer as well as a wordcount - so no kitchen timer or external program, Akshata! You can set a target (words, pages, paragraphs, lines - even characters) and see your progress at any time, again with just a key combination. (You can actually get quite fancy with different targets and sub-targets in some way, but I haven't explored this because I work on time and wordcounts.) It's an excellent program and (like so many really excellent programs) free!

    The great thing with using this type of program is that because there is no formatting (unlike as with Word where, even if the user hasn't actually consciously applied any formatting, formatting is applied by the program and stripping it out later can be a nightmare) your text can easily be cut-and-pasted into an editor for whatever final form you need for your book. So I cut-and-paste my finished chapters into KindleWriter2, and I'm immediately ready to begin the editing process without having to waste hours trying to work out what hidden formatting (or just buggy anomaly) is tripping up the process (oh how I love Microsoft products...).

    Although when writing creatively you don't need formatting, there are some basic functions you do need, such as search-and-replace (for example if you suddenly decide to change a recurring term or a name), and these are available in Q10. You can spellcheck, although I agree that you shouldn't do this as a general rule when editing, and I do this at the end of my writing stint each time and before I read through what I've written as otherwise it would distract me too much from the reading process. All the key-combination basic functions we've known from the beginning (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+A, Ctrl+Z etc.) are available normally, as are the normal combinations for saving, opening, and other functions with files.

    For me a sine qua non of this type of 'editor' (!) is that it should have a text expander function, and Q10 does have one. No one who writes/types at any length on a daily basis should be typing out every single word - madness and a quick and sure route to RSI. I have to admit that I don't use the text expander in Q10, but this is only because I use an external, program-independent, text expander with a vocabulary I've built up over many years (I barely type out any one word in its entirety), but most people don't have this and so the Q10 built-in text expander is A Good Thing.

    Simply having sufficient screen estate so that you can see a large chunk of what you've written in itself helps the creative process - at least that's what I personally find. Not seeing is also a creative tool, I definitely agree, but when you're working on a big project such as a book or a series of books, you need - or at least I need - to keep an overall eye on the flow of the thing and, yes, whether or not you've said something before. I find that I can get into little whirlpools and eddies where my thoughts and my writing go round in circles, and seeing what I've written a few paragraphs previously helps to get me out of them. So having a wonderful clear screen (with that fillip of the wordcounter and timer waiting for the off) makes it easy to start bashing out the words and getting those thoughts down.

    • Akshata
      November 6, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Maryon,
      I have heard of Q10, but I haven't explored it so far. From what you have described, it seems to have some pretty handy features. I'll be sure to check it out. I really did not know that colors could affect the creative process so for writers. Although I have noticed that I'm not comfortable writing on dark backgrounds. Only white or light grey backgrounds work for me. Thank you for your comment. I hope BlindWrite helps with your writing.

  10. dragonmouth
    November 6, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Silly article. Writing is a creative process. Creativity cannot be done by the numbers or regimented by some arbitrary rules. While editing-while-writing may not work for you, it may and does work for hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Would you criticize Van Gogh for using only certain colors or e.e. cummings for not using captial letters?

    "Writing to the tune of a timer creates a sense of urgency."
    And makes writing feel like answering an essay question on an end of semester test. How does that work out for most people? Some people write well under a time constraint but most of us freeze up and have problems writing even "See Spot. See Spot run."

    "Don’t Pick Up Where You Left Off"
    Bad idea. Makes you lose the flow of thought. Instead of being one continuous story, the work becomes a series of individual sections which later editing may or may not be able to glue together. The longer the work, the choppier it will be if you don't pick up where you left off.

    "Having sufficient gap between writing and editing is vital. It gives you fresh eyes and allows you to see your words from a new perspective."
    It may also destroy creativity. As you are writing, you have certain idea of how to use words and phrasing to achieve a desired effect. Editing-while-writing allows you to maintain that idea. If you leave the editing till later, you probably will forget what you were thinking at the moment of writing. By editing later you may improve the verbiage, grammar and/or syntax. But you most probably will ruin or lose the context.

    "In the case of writing, that means putting words to screen without fiddling with facts, style, or presentation"
    Fiddling with facts, style and/or presentation IS part of the creative process as you are putting words to screen.

    How many of today's writers like Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Sue Grafton, Jodi Picoult, et al. use any of the apps or methods you mentioned? The process you outline may work great for writng technical manuals or cook books. It does not work for creative writing. Subjecting the creative process to rules and regulations results in mechanical, formulaic, uninspired, emotionless junk.

    • Maryon Jeane
      November 6, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Dragonmouth - having been confused with you by two commenters now I've been having a quick look around at comments you've made; why do you always take a rather aggressive and dismissive stance?

    • dragonmouth
      November 6, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      "Dragonmouth – having been confused with you by two commenters now"
      I guess I should be flattered, imitation being the sincerest form of flaterry. :-)

      "why do you always take a rather aggressive ..... stance?"
      A stance that opposes yours always seems aggressive. I was not aware that MUO writers solicit only laudatory comments. Looking at the last paragraph of this article, it seems that Akshata is asking for opinions and experiences. It just so happens that my experience has been different than hers.

      "dismissive stance"
      I guess it's because I edit as I write. :P

      However, I do agree with Akshata and you that this method is great for non-creative writing.

      BTW - I found your comments on the "Stop Bashing Microsoft" article to be aggressive and dismissive. No wonder, since you were disagreeing with the author.