Over-Editing: Does it Exist?

Photo credit: smoorenburg on Flickr
If you’ve visited this blog before, then chances are you know that I often emphasize the importance of editing. And with good reason—editing is essential to both improving a WIP and refining your skill as a writer.

But while writers often talk about working on their third or fourth (or tenth) draft and most of us are well aware that the editing doesn’t stop after the completion of a second draft or a few beta-read edits, the seemingly endless flow of edits begs the question: is there such a thing as editing too much?

It probably comes as little surprise to many of you to hear that creative individuals tend to share perfectionistic traits—particularly with their work. We truly are our greatest critic, and because of that, many writers often find themselves caught in a loop of endless edits.

Considering the enormous amount of rejection most writers must face, it’s easy to see why so many writers get so caught up in the editing stage that they never really reach completion. Letting our work go—whether to be self-published online or subjected to opinions from professionals in the publishing world—is a scary thing. And naturally, we want out work to be the best it can be before release—as it should be.

But eventually, you have to let your WIP graduate to the title of completed work. Eventually you have to accept that you’ve made your manuscript as good as you possibly can and it’s time to let it speak for itself.

Editing is an essential step to the writing process, but it is possible to overdo it. Because I promise you, your work will never be perfect—even traditionally published works contain grammatical and typographical errors. In your eyes, there will always be something to fix—whether it’s that sentence that still doesn’t sound just right or the possibly misplaced comma on page 193.

But if we never let our work try for the limelight, then we’re crushing its potential before it even had a chance. We’re killing the dream with fears and doubts and a reach for the impossible.

Don’t let a fear of rejection or less than perfection keep you from achieving your dreams. Edit your work until it’s the very best that you can make it, then stop. It’s time to let it go.

Have you ever fallen into the endless editing loop? Share your experiences in the comments below!


Al Diaz said...

I hear you. I learned what overediting was with the first Chapter of my current WIP. I used it to work with during an edition course. I used it again during another exercise. And then again and again. AT first it turned out great but there came a point I felt it was sort of "stiff" after so many aesthetic surgeries. That was my "Whoops!" moment.

David Fuller said...

I found with my WIP I got bogged down in endless rewrites (stem-to-stern, full MS changed) before I realized what it really needed was a full structural edit. I had essentially been trying to solve macro problems on a micro level. The good news: giving it a proper three-act structure helped me cut out a swath of stuff that wasn't quite working, and ramped up the stuff that was. Now I just have to get through this draft and see how it hangs together.

Margaret Alexander said...

I agree, Ava, I think at some point you do have to let it go if you ever want to see it published. I think it's safe to say once it leaves the hands of your editor and you get some thumbs up from your betas, it's good to go. Of course, people will always find issues. The characters don't act the way they wanted here or the flow isn't right there, but I think having some professional editing work done is a pretty good confirmation that it's almost there and you shouldn't poke at it much further unless you see a need to clarify something a bit more. At least, that's how I look at it. For writers who aren't working with editors and are trying to trad. publish, a handful of betas, a few of which give detailed feedback, are a good basis for confirmation.

David Fuller said...

I was um, observing (read: complaining) about finding big problems that needed fixing in my WIP, and one of my friends, a far more experienced writer than I am, cautioned against over-revising: "The text becomes brittle with too many rewrites," he said. I can certainly see that.

Ava Jae said...

As they say, you can have too much of a good thing, and editing is no different. Overdo it, and you can easily kill your writing. Whoops indeed!

Ava Jae said...

That's a great point, David! There are different kinds of edits and different stages of editing that can't be interchanged. If you get caught up in copyedits or line edits before working out the structural edits, a lot of that time you spent on line edits ends up tossed out the window when you restructure your manuscript anyway. It's a lesson that I learned the hard way as well.

Best of luck with your edits!

Ava Jae said...

Great point about beta readers and editors, Margaret. It's very difficult for us to see when we've done enough (or, on the flip side, haven't done enough) without outside feedback.

Ava Jae said...

Editing is an essential part of the process, but you do have to be careful about overdoing it. It requires a balance.

Andi-Roo said...

I think you said it best here: "But if we never let our work try for the limelight, then we’re crushing its potential before it even had a chance."

I'm not at the point of re-writes and edits, yet. But now I know to look out for going overboard when I finally *DO* get there. Thanks, Ava! :)

Margaret Alexander said...

Agreed. That's a good point. You don't want to drag it out too far from its raw state, which is really where it's most interesting.

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