Is There Such A Thing As Over Editing? / @StephanieKeyes / @allthewayya
There have been lots of times over the years when I’ve gotten frustrated, when rejection nailed me to the wall. Everybody who writes goes through this to some degree. Over the past few years, I’ve focused on exploring and managing this, turning rejections into my own mini-teachable moments and allowing myself to enjoy successes. It’s worked. I’ve been a happier writer because of it.
But…I never expected to find myself at a standstill last week over an entirely different blocker. Editing. Specifically, when did I stop? How was I supposed to truly know when a manuscript was ready to go out? As a perfectionist, I can edit a book forever if I let myself. Still, there’s danger in that.
Last year, I attended the Rutgers One-On-One Plus conference (fabulous, by the way). During a panel discussion, T.S. Ferguson from Harlequin Teen shared a story of how he almost passed on Daughters unto Devils because of an edit done by another editor. He’d seen the original version of the story and loved it, but when the manuscript made its way back to him, it’d lost its magic. He passed on the manuscript. Eventually he did work with the author and do a new edit (which is available today). Still this story stayed with me.
How do you know if you’re overediting?
I polled other writer friends. How much time did they spend on rewrites and edits? Did they use a freelance editor? What strategies did they apply? I needed rules, some sort of absolute that I could adopt. I may be a creative, but I’m also big on logic. As an IT geek, I like rules. I like logic.
The feedback rolled in. It ranged from high level answers of 5-7 times to detailed responses, such as three read-throughs, one developmental edit, one copy edit, and one line edit. The only recurring theme? “I know I’m done editing when I feel in my gut that I’ve done my very best.”
My dreams of a bulleted checklist evaporated. These responses were as far from a definitive set of rules as it was possible to get. It overwhelmed me. I did the only thing I could. I shut down the laptop and got onto my elliptical machine.
This is something I do quite a bit. If a story isn’t working, I step back and throw myself into something that uses another part of my brain, exercising, something with spreadsheets (color coding makes me happy), or yes, even cleaning. Unfortunately, none of these resulted in a clear-cut answer either.
And then it happened. That moment everyone had talked about. I had an MS out to an editor and the feedback that came in blew me away. He suggested a change to my character’s personality that would make mare my guy…exactly the way I’d written him five versions ago.
Had I overedited? Heck, yes.
I’d cast my net so wide in my quest for feedback that I’d somehow accumulated too many opinions and changed far more than I needed to. In my search for logic, what I started doing was listening to everyone but myself. I believed in my work, but yet, somehow didn’t trust my ination to enough to believe in my version of the story.
There aren’t any rules when it comes to something like knowing when you’re done with a story. There can’t be, because every story is different. That’s why we always hear those generalized phrases like, you’ll know when you’re ready and it’s done when you’ve created the very best version.
I’m here to add one more to the list: It’s done when you’ve told the story you set out to tell. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will like it or love it, but you have to. It needs to be a story that you read over and over again and fall in love with, whether you’re reading it from the readers’ perspective or your own.
Are there hard and fast rules to help you figure out when you’re done editing? Not really. But like everything else when it comes to writing, trusting yourself and believing in your story are two character features you should never edit out.