Do you need an editor for your first draft?

The answer is no. I had several writers give me this advice over Wattpad, even as I was mostly posting work online for free and stating that I was just starting out. Sure, I needed a proofreader, but back then I was still in the early writing stage. I was mostly writing as I went along and posting when I had something on hand. I didn’t need someone to fine-tune my writing when I wasn’t even sure whether I would even keep my plot the same in the revision process. Thankfully, I never heeded that advice although I did have someone edit my work in the earlier stages. I’ll get back to that later.

It is very wrong to instill this advice into a new writer’s heads. As even for editors, there are very different kinds of editing. The only sort applicable to the first draft is developmental editing, but even then it is more of a mentorship. What a new writer needs is not an editor, but rather honest feedback, encouragement, and practice.

Back to the fact that I did have an editor. Back then, I saw the postings of someone who offered her services free for others and I took upon it. She had edited it and gave me some feedback regarding my first story. It was important as it propelled me into developing better main characters, side characters and improving my plot. But most importantly, told me that these things were something that was more fundamental and I needed to fix them before seeking something that was looking at every line.

An editor can fix a bad piece of writing with a good story, but they can’t fix a bad story no matter how stellar the writing is.

It would still be a while before my storytelling reached its current levels. But it was a step in the right direction. However, I realized that editing was futile especially just a few weeks after the edit I overhauled my entire novel. Because I realized the story was terrible and I didn’t really like the direction.

And that feedback about their storytelling at that stage is so much more important than say focusing on the writing unless of course, the writing is virtually incomprehensible to the reader.

New writers need feedback more than they need an editor.

Advice and feedback should be the choice to go for this situation. Encouragement is another important thing too. Not so much on having to find an editor to tell them what good critique partners do.

Most writers at that stage need to work on their storytelling and becoming better writers. Not really an editor. Editing is a process which fine tunes everything and a new writer isn’t ready for that. They haven’t even managed to build a strong, sturdy foundation or a certainty that what they’re written is ready for publication. I most certainly wasn’t ready for it either.

Think of writing as building a house. It’s messy, the construction would have mistakes, things might need to be redone again the next time around. Editing can be considered the furnishings, the interior design that accompanies and makes the house come alive and visually appealing. As such, it is the same as designing the house before it has even been fully built or finished on a foundational level.

That is exactly what an editor is to a new writer writing her first draft. 

The next time you suggest to a writer who is clearly writing the first draft to look for an editor; perhaps the criticism could be turned to the story or certain aspects of writing which could be learned by the author on their own.