Editing: How Do You Know When You’re Finished?

Photo credit: pleabear on Flickr
It’s often said that writing is rewriting, and the importance of editing is well emphasized, but when it comes to talking about the end of the editing process and announcing a final  draft, writers tend to get a little vague. 

You see, the truth about final drafts is that they don’t really exist until someone decides that this draft that you’re holding is indeed the final one. Sometimes that “someone” is the writer, and sometimes it’s an editor, or an agent, or another publishing professional, but the point is that this is yet another subjective step. 

I’ve heard it said that the final draft of a book isn’t a real thing—there is a draft, then a published draft, but final one? Final in the sense that it will no longer be tweaked (besides the occasional fix of typos), perhaps. But the perfect draft doesn’t exist, which makes the pursuit of perfection an impossible task. 

For unpublished writers without an agent or editor to say this is the draft that will be published, it can be even more difficult to decide when a WIP has reached the final draft (or draft ready for submission, at least) stage. With no one to force them to stop editing, it’s not uncommon for writers to edit with no end in sight. 

So how can you tell when you’ve reached the final draft?

There are two major clues to look out for, namely: 

  • Your betas and CPs are happy. Have I mentioned lately how helpful betas and critique partners are? This is yet another reason why—when you start getting mostly positive feedback (i.e.: most betas agree that you don’t have any major gaping plot holes or huge character problems, etc.) you know you’re definitely close. 

  • You’re happy. By “happy” I don’t mean that you think it’s perfect, because chances are you’ll never think it’s perfect. But when you read your WIP, you’re no longer cringing at the writing. You look at your work and you don’t feel the need to tweak. Eventually you will reach a point when you feel there’s nothing more you can do to improve your novel, and that’s when you know you’ve reached the end. (For now). 

Remember that until publication, there really is no final draft, but there is a happy place where you’ve done enough editing, and that is all you really need. 

How do you know when you’ve reached the final draft stage? 


Robin Red said...

I've broken my streak and started writing again (college is murder!). Just reading this made me look forward to the day I have a dazzling, freshly completed final draft to covet. Thank you, Ava.

Hildred Billings said...

I'm done with a book when I look at it and think, "I'm no longer moving forward with this. I'm moving sideways."

Ava Jae said...

Glad to hear it, Robin! Keep up the great work and you'll have a completed first draft in no time. :)

Ava Jae said...

That's a great one. Thanks for sharing, Hildred!

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