James Braxton Peterson on the Editing Process — Finding the Best Time to Edit

It is rare that a first draft is also a final draft. The writing process typically includes many revisions, such as editing, removing unneeded content, or adding clarifying phrases. Editing is the key to making your writing clear and memorable.

James Braxton Peterson is a writer, educational consultant, content creator, and scholar for culture and politics from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of both Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania. Peterson embraces a progressive mindset, analyzing contemporary American culture, politics, race relations, entertainment, and non-traditional approaches to academics.

James Braxton Peterson from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the Editing Process

Getting Started — the First Draft

First and foremost, editing should not interrupt creative flow. The first drafts help writers put raw ideas down on paper. Writers that edit while they write restrict their creative thinking, limiting their potential for brilliance and originality.

Momentum is key. For example, one should finish a first draft before editing, because it is much easier to edit after a finished draft than it is trying to sustain the initial enthusiasm through editing interruptions.

When it comes to finding the best time to write and edit, one should consider their schedule. First drafts can require a large amount of uninterrupted time.

Revising for Final Submission

As important as it is to complete a first draft without stopping to edit, you should take extra time to edit before submitting a final product, notes James Braxton Peterson. Readers and editors expect the final piece to be as professional and polished as possible.

Each writer is different. Some writers prefer to do full edits in one sitting while others prefer to take frequent breaks to keep their minds sharp. Finding the best time to edit should take these preferences into consideration.

Even after submitting a final draft to editors, additional edits and revisions are likely, but it is important for your writing to demonstrate the clarity of your ideas and your professionalism. Writers that ensure that their final draft is flawless (by the writer’s standards) before submitting helps editors understand the writer’s thought process thoroughly. Additionally, self-editing can accelerate the reviewing process and minimize delays.

James Braxton Peterson on Finding the Best Time to Edit

Give the first draft some time and space before you edit — editing should not take place immediately after one completes the first draft.

Giving space between completing and editing a draft allows the writer to have fresh eyes. Furthermore, many writers feel attached to their first draft immediately after completion. Taking time off between the first draft and the editing process helps writers be more objective. It is difficult to make critical changes if the writer feels that nothing needs to be changed. James Braxton Peterson recommends having a friend or colleague read the draft and then asking that person for feedback.

For most people, research shows that the best time for first-draft writing is immediately after waking. The part of the brain that is responsible for creative thinking, the prefrontal cortex, is most active during that time of the day.

By contrast, the analytical part of the brain becomes more active throughout the day. As the analytical part of the brain becomes more active, it is better able to edit thoroughly. It is often best to edit work in the middle or latter part of the day.

Good editing means staying focused. Begin editing in a quiet place at a quiet time of the day to avoid distractions. Set aside short blocks of time — such as 20-minute bursts — to edit the text. Reading the draft aloud helps the writer analyze flow and style.

Ultimately, these are just suggestions. James Braxton Peterson notes that what works for one writer may not work for another. Good writers pay attention to their writing process and establish the best approach and schedule for efficient editing.

James Braxton Peterson is a writer, consultant, and content creator out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.