Monday, 5 July 2010

When to Stop Editing

Some people finish their novel or short story and send it off without even giving it the once over. Other people hang on patiently editing until all the life has been sucked out of the writing. If you're in the first camp, believe me it does need some editing. I get to see quite a lot of 'before' and 'after' workshopping writing, and the 'after' is invariably better.

So how do you know when it's ready?

I tend to stop when I've done everything I can think of and I'm sick to death of the whole thing. At this stage I will have...

* Sent out to my friends who read for me and incorporated their comments.
* Used index cards several times to check for pace and variety, and to see if there are any gaps.
* Highlighted every good phrase on every page, and made sure that there are at least 5 a page.
* Read the whole ms aloud at least once to check it flows well, the grammar works and there aren't hundreds of typos.
* Sorted out anything that's niggling me.

This last one is a killer. There are often things that you secretly know aren't quite working but you pretend to yourself that they're not really important, or that no one else will notice. Ha! They are, and they will. You're only putting it off because you suspect it's going to involve a lot more work than you want to do at this stage. Just do it.

And then it's done.

Anything more is hanging on because you're worried about what's going to happen when you send out. Sometimes not knowing feels better than risking rejection. But if you want to get published you have to send out. So stop editing, and get on with it.


Liz Harris said...

I have a love-hate relationship with editing.

I get totally sick of the book as I work through it and hate what I'm having to do; but at the same time, I can see that as I complete each part that the book, it's getting better all the time, and I realise that the knock-on effect is that I must be improving as a writer, and I love that.

Liz X

Sarah Duncan said...

If it's any consolation one of the things I've learned from teaching is that every piece that's come back having been workshopped and edited has improved, and the first draft standard of students improves too.

The more you do, the better you become - just like your mum told you about piano practice.

Lizzie said...

I did a word count last night ... I'm 5,000 over my limit and that's not counting the last chapter. So, like George Osborne, I'll be making some very deep cuts before I send ms to the RNA – the cut-off point is 10th August. It's a good thing I like editing

Lizzie said...

I did a word count last night – I'm 5,000 over my limit, and that's not counting the last chapter. So some heavy duty editing before I send my ms to the RNA by 10th August. It's just as well I like the challenge of editing.

Sarah Duncan said...

Editing is good for the soul. 5000 to lose is a fair old chunk though, that's whole paras not careful deletion of redundant words.

When I got 'digested' by Readers Digest they cut 2/3 of the whole novel. There were some great sweeping losses of sub-plot that made my eyes widen, but generally I couldn't put my finger on what had gone. I wondered if that meant I could have cut by a half, and still had pretty much the whole novel there.

Good luck for the 10th!