When to Stop Editing

Posted May 5, 2015 by Briana in Editing / 5 Comments

Macbook computer
Ah, the red pen—a staple of exemplary writing.

Fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and poets alike utilize red pens to edit their work. If you don’t use a red pen, you’re certainly familiar with the backspace key, comments feature, and the Track Changes option on your word processor.

Editing is a vital part of the writing process. You can’t have good writing without rewriting. As Patricia Fuller said, “Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” It’s foolish.

Of course, there is such a thing as too much editing.

When basic revising crosses the line into over-analyzing every single word and piece of punctuation, you know you’re in trouble. Although revising is important, it needs to have a finite end. No piece of writing can be more than nearly perfect. If you go through the same piece over and over again without stopping, you’re sacrificing time and effort better given to new projects.

I am now and have always been a perfectionist. I’m rarely satisfied with my completed pieces. When editing my work, I have a hard time stopping myself. There’s always something that needs to be fixed—in my eyes, at least.

As writers, we can also be our own worst critics. Our standards are different than everyone else’s. Sometimes the prose is not as bad as our minds make it out to be.

Additionally, editing can turn into a vehicle for procrastination. When we’re afraid to start new projects, we waste all our time on polishing pieces that are already excellent. Sometimes we just need to stop. Sometimes we need to give up.

We need to walk away.

If you’re waiting for someone to tell you that your work is perfect, the wait is over. You want someone to tell you that it’s okay to stop? To move on? To start something new?

That’s where I come in.

That thing you’ve been editing to death is fine as is, I promise.

It’s not a monster. It won’t frighten anybody. Slide it into your desk drawer, close the drawer, and go outside. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Play with your children.

Write something else.

The world doesn’t end just because you stop editing.

What do you think? When do you stop editing?

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When is it time to stop [email protected] says it might be sooner than you think. (Click to tweet)

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5 responses to “When to Stop Editing

  1. I thought about this today.
    I ultimately realized you can say the same thing a thousand ways, so you can keep changing endlessly and not make the story any better.

    It has to be about the storytelling. If that can be improved significantly, then keep making changes. The moment the story can’t be told much better, it’s best to just revise for typo and bad grammar and just let it go.

    • Briana Morgan

      Definitely. Once you’ve addressed issues of structure and basic copy editing, you should take a step back and reevaluate. If the storytelling is sharp, like you said, it’s best to just leave it alone.

  2. Lauren Simonis

    The amount of times I’ve thought about it is insane. I’m on draft who knows what number and I’m trying to avoid continuing down that path. So once I get this draft edited – it’s on to beta readers for me! No more editing!

    • Briana Morgan

      Yay! As a perfectionist, it is difficult to give myself permission to stop. I hope your willpower is strong. 🙂