The One Thing That Produces Pretty Words Now and Leaves You with a Mess Later

Writing Tips Tuesday

When I walk behind someone, I tend to watch for missteps. Not to be mean. Not to laugh. Not to point fingers. But to learn where not to place my feet. So I’m sharing the one thing that has cost me months of work in hopes you can skip over this mistake and make your own time-consuming errors.

Despite words of wisdom from those who have tread before me and cautioned me not to get too close to the over-editing cliff, I spent so much time perfecting the writing craft I neglected the plot and pacing of my novel. I didn’t make sure my story worked as a whole before I began polishing the prose. Some parts were broken.

The result?

Thousands of beautiful words rendered useless. Stored in files I tell myself I’ll open again. But in truth? I’ll never use those scenes. In this book or any other.

Here’s the one thing I would change in a second if I could.


Don’t make your words pretty until you cement your plot.

All those pages, paragraphs, and sentences you agonized over? When you start changing the plot, adding pacing, and deepening character, that railroad track gets pulled up tie by tie and you end up tossing out all those pretty words and writing new ones.

Leave your drafts messy until you fortify your story. Make sure you absolutely love every scene. Ask yourself if the scene is relevant to the plot, if the scene flows, if the scene falls in the right location. Then, agonize over every synonym, every description, every syllable of dialogue. Editing at that perfectionist level? Best left for the end. I know. I’m on my fifth draft of this book and I’ve probably tossed out close to 100,000 words that don’t fit anymore.

What writing mistake has cost you the most time? Please share. Sharing makes me smarter.



  1. EXCELLENT post with excellent advice! :)

  2. Thanks for that very good advice! It’s a point well taken!

  3. Too much time on theme. I once thought that a truly good story had to weave together on the higest elements by the second editing round. So I would agonize over the hidden motivations of villians, the linking of symbolic elements, and all the other bits that wrap into theme. Then one day I stopped, looked around, and realized that I did not need to know. Why had a certain villian gone bad? Irrelevant, because the reader would not know in that book even if I did. What I needed was to start with the presumption that they had and build from there. So now I sit much much later and that pivotal moment came to me in the shower, precisely because I am now writing a scene where that knowledge is revealed and it fits with everything else I have said. Pushing too hard for every detail kills time and flow.

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