Editing Your Work to Death

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading writer magazines, books and online forums about book publishing over the past two months. When you spend most of your time in hospitals and rehabs (I’m hanging out with my mom while she is recovering from an accident), you can almost drive yourself crazy reading self-help articles.

One of these articles was The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing by Janice Gable Bashman and Kathryn Craft that appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest. What caught my eye was the following: Resist the temptation to convince yourself your first draft is “good enough.” If you find yourself rushing your editing process just to leap ahead to pursuing publication, look for deeper motivation to sustain you.

While I agree that no one’s first draft is ever good enough for publication, I do think some individuals need the motivation of publication to keep them moving along in the process. While not everyone wants to be a published author (or do they?), the possibility of belonging to the community of published authors is very alluring.

For example, once an author has published their first book in a series (or subsequent books), it is important to publish the next book within a reasonable period of time or risk losing your readers to the next intriguing author waiting in the wings to snag your fan base. Many series writers believe that the next installment should be available within six months to a year.

I don’t believe that the editing process should be totally abandoned, but with the “miracle” of grammar check and spell check, numerous errors can be corrected. In addition, new authors can employ the method of reading their stories out loud to help catch sentences or words that may make reading a passage difficult.

With the tablet revolution kicking into high gear, writers who wish to ruminate about their true motivation for writing may miss the boat altogether. If you wish to write for a living, understand that editing is part of the entire process, but don’t spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about it, especially if you aren’t an editor by trade. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone who can, and then get started writing that next book or short story.

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6 thoughts on “Editing Your Work to Death

  1. Great post! Editors at publishing houses do not expect their writers to be editors as well. They can overlook a few errors is the story is engaging enough. That said, I think rewriting is a more important process over editing for sure.

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    • Thank you for pointing this out about publishing houses. Of the writers I know, only a small handful are editors as well. I want to encourage writers to do what they do best, and not get hung up on this one aspect of the writing biz.

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  2. I’d argue strongly against relying on the ‘miracle’ of grammar and spell check. They are NOT always correct (particularly if you’re writing in British English rather than Microsoft… sorry, US English).
    Spell check also completely fails to pick up words that are spelt correctly but are not the right words. I wrote a post recently about two books I’d read – one mentioned children crashing symbols together in an orchestra, the other referred to that popular Mediterranean island called Cypress!
    Whether your book is 50,000 or 150,000 words long doesn’t matter – it must be edited, read, re-edited and checked again or you are going to annoy readers and lose sales.

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    • I agree that people need to edit and re-edit, but what I think happens (sometimes) is that people get caught up in the editing process and they never get to the next step- submitting it to an editor or agent. They are so afraid that it doesn’t measure up that they never submit it to anyone, anywhere.

      There are professional editors available that can get writers to the next step AFTER they at least try using their spell check, grammar check and reading their work out loud. There are many writers, however, that never even use these simple tools.

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      • Fair point.
        And I do know what you mean by ‘editing to death’ – I spent so long rewriting every paragraph of my first novel that it took me about six years to finish it!

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  3. I was fortunate to find a wonderful editor for my autobiography…my problem has never been my own over-editing, but rather zealous, egocentric over-editing by incompetent editors! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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