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.


5 Comments on “Is There Such A Thing As Over Editing? / @StephanieKeyes / @allthewayya

  1. Oh Steph do I ever feel ya on this one! The manuscript I’ve been fretting over (the YA one) has been through so many edits and most recently when I got feedback from several beta readers, I had a major epiphany much like what you describe here…they all wanted what I took out 5 drafts ago. It’s a frustrating endeavor to be a writer who, in an effort to get recognition from prospective editors (or the approval of your current agent as I was), we can lose the heart of the story and the hearts of our characters. Thank you for this post. And thank you for your positive perspective!!!


    • Hi Hannah,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It’s funny how these things, work, isn’t it? Sometimes we just need to trust the person who knows our characters best-ourselves! Stay strong, soul sister!


  2. You bring up two very important points for the writer. When is it finished? and how much advice should you take on it (from beta readers, fro example.)

    Picasso said that no work of art is ever finished, it’s simply abandoned. This is absolutely true. How do you know when a painting is done? In a book, isn’t there always something you can do to “make it better?”

    As to editing, it depends on what you mean by that term. There’s rewriting, and there’s editing. I think they’re two different things, although their functions overlap.

    To me, “editing” is going through the finished work and making sure everything is squared away with regard to punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

    Before that, however, are rewrites, and maybe what could be called “editing” in the sense of a book editor, as opposed to a line editor. For example, the type of edit Shawn Coyne talks about in his book “Story Grid.” You make sure the story is structurally sound, the timeline makes sense, no contradictions, etc.

    This is where being a perfectionist will kill you. You could be at this forever. You have to learn to come to a point where, as you say, you’ve told the story you started out to tell (more or less), and that’s it. You go through to clean it up, then off to beta readers.

    Now you really have to filter the response. If you have ten beta readers, there will be ten different opinions on what you need to do, and they will often conflict. They will comment on about everything. You’ve got to learn what to accept, and what to reject. Typos, sure, fix them. Contradictions in the story, no problem. Timeline issues need to be fixed. Otherwise, be careful.

    The other thing is that what you think is important, the agent or editor at the publisher may not. So, you spend days reworking something, and the editor wants it changed or taken out. Other things have to be added or deleted that you never would have noticed. You end up doing a lot of work for nothing.

    If you know how to write, and you’ve come with compelling story, just tell the story, put it in proper form, and then stop. Make it as clean as possible, and then submit. There’s no formula, and no scientific test. You just have to pull the trigger.


  3. Pingback: Too. Much. | All The Way YA

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