In 2018 I wrote a manuscript of a very long book. The latter part of the year and the first part of 2019 I’ve been editing. Every time I read my book again, I always find ways to make it better and things to fix or add. So how do I know when I’m done?
I think this is something all writers go through. When someone examines their own art, there’s a tendency to see the errors and what could be improved. Everyone wants their writing to be the best it can be, but when has it reached ‘the best’ and when has it turned into ‘psycho over-editing which is actually doing more harm than good’? I haven’t figured out if there’s an equation to tell the difference, but this is what I’m doing.
Asking other people to read your work (or portions of), then giving them later drafts, is a greta way to have a non-biased 3rd party opinion of whether your editing is improving anything or not. They have not invested hundreds of brain hours into writing the piece, so they can see what the writer can’t. But that only works if you have people willing to read it.
My strategy is to identify the weaknesses in my writing, then edit specifically for those things. For example, I know that I am an over-explainer and have the tendency to put in lots of repetitive-meaning words. I also know that I get swept up in my plot, and even though I see clear images in my head, I don’t always do those images justice in my writing.
Currently, I just finished my first edit of the year. I cut out 3,000 words of repetition and over-explaining that made my story weaker! Just by reading it through once and asking: do I need these words? Does it add to my story? Did I say that already? Admitting that makes me feel like a horrible writer. 3,000 words is a lot of repetition. But it’s the truth and it happened. Now hopefully, my book is better for it.
I am starting the second (and hopefully final) edit of my book this week. This time, I’m focusing on poignant details. Sometimes I feel like my writing is superficial. The themes and broad picture is mind boggling, but sometimes my focus is too broad. This round I am pouring energy into making each page intentional and present, and not get swept away.
Each time I read through my manuscript, I panic at the amount of work I can put into it. I don’t think I’ll read it after it gets published, whenever that may be. But I feel like a truth is that writing can always be edited further. So the time to stop is when the writer decides they are happy with their work, and when their writing says and means what they want it to.
My book will definitely be edited again, even if the first publisher I send it to accepts me. So this time around is not the end of my editing, but merely the end of my craziness over editing.