How Much Editing is Too Much?

Jul 22, 2022 | On Writing

How much editing is too much?

It is no secret that editing can be a long and arduous process for writers. Many writers find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of edits, unable to let go of the idea that their novel should be perfect before it has even been published. But editing too much can lead to poorer writing quality (if you can believe it), so when do you know when enough is enough?

In this post, I cover just that topic and offer some advice on when you are ready to move on to the next stage of the writing process.

If you’ve been working on your most recent draft for what seems like an endless period of time, subjecting your draft to continuous rounds of edits, how do you know when to stop?

Here are some classic signs that you’ve ventured into over-editing.

You no longer recognize your writing style and tone in your work

You know you’ve edited too much if you feel your draft doesn’t carry the soul of your original writing. You’ve lost your voice and can no longer differentiate between editing changes that improve the story, and those that do not.

You start to question whether things really need editing or if they’re just “missing something” but you don’t know what it is. In your pursuit for perfection, you might end up sacrificing the parts of your writing that make the story yours.

Never compromise soul for unattainable standards of quality. As a perfectionist, I get that’s a hard balance to strike but you should always retain the parts of the story that make it yours.

That’s something never worth editing out.

You feel like you’re editing more than writing

Editing can be a long process but it shouldn’t be endless. If editing is taking up more of your time than writing, that means you’re spending an inordinate amount of time editing.

That’s a sure sign it’s time to move on and validate the work with beta readers or take it out for querying.

Your writing becoming too condensed, making it harder for readers to follow the story

Your writing feels stiff and overly formal for no apparent reason (this may indicate an excessive number of passive sentences). 

So before continuing with more edits, ask yourself these questions first. 

  • Have I done enough? 
  • Is there anything else I want to fix/improve on my draft

If after some time has passed, even weeks later, nothing comes to mind then perhaps it’s safe to assume this round of edits is the final one (for now at least).

Your novel has been edited so much that there are no words left to edit

Without realizing it, the majority of the sentences in the novel may have been changed at least once. If every sentence from beginning to end has already been read through by previous editors, chances are you’ve reached editing nirvana.

It may seem like overkill but at least now you can be confident that your draft is as polished as possible before submitting anywhere. 

Pro-tip: editing too much can lead to poor quality writing, so define how many rounds of editing you want to do in advance and stick to those timelines.

Your draft is deteriorating in quality and needs a fresh pair of eyes

There will come a time during your editing ventures when you should set the draft down and pass it on to a beta reader or another editor. If you’ve reached the editing nirvana stages but your draft is still deteriorating in quality, it’s time to let someone else take a look at what you’ve written.

The more eyes on the work, the better chance of catching errors and inconsistencies that slipped through during previous edits or rounds of editing so don’t be afraid to pass it along for outside opinions.

How can you avoid over-editing?

If you’ve seen any of the above signs, then it’s time to stop editing and move on. You can’t edit forever! 

Instead, try these tips for moving on to the next stage in your writing process:

Set a deadline.

For a lot of writers, setting a deadline helps them focus more on finishing editing and moving onto the next stage of writing. The key is using a deadline wisely—the point isn’t to stress yourself out by giving yourself an impossible task in too little time, but rather to use it as a guidepost so that you don’t get stuck at any one stage of the process.

Let a friend read through your draft.

You might think that having another set of eyes look at your work is unnecessary, but it really can help to take a step back from your writing and look at it fresh. Plus, if you know someone who has good writing experience (or editing experience) and they are willing to look over your work with an eye toward how it will be received by other readers, you stand to learn more about what makes writing good and how your reader reacts to what you have written. 

It’s always important to get feedback on your work in order to grow as a writer, and this is one way you can do that without going through a lengthy editing process with a professional editor.

Take a break from editing – but don’t lose track of time!

It’s easy to lose track of time while you’re immersed in your novel’s world. Before you know it, weeks have gone by and your draft hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s common for writers to get immersed in their work and lose track of time. This can be particularly dangerous if you’re on a deadline.

But it’s also incredibly important to take some time out for yourself away from editing. Go on a weekend trip or try something new that will help boost creativity in writing again when you get back to editing. This might even spark ideas for your next novel!

Keep editing in mind for future drafts too

Don’t feel like editing is a one-time only task. You’ll need to edit again, so keep editing in mind for future versions.

Before you know it, this stage too will pass and soon enough you’ll be ready to submit your manuscript into agents’ hands (or publish it online!) once and for all.

When to stop editing?

Ask yourself this question: “Will I ever hit a point when I think my current draft is good enough?”

The answer is often a simple “no”. There is always room for improvement. Art is subjective and ‘perfect’ is a standard most of us strive for with our work. But that doesn’t mean you should get stuck in the editing stage forever.

So when do you know when enough is enough? If the words no longer flow from your fingertips, if editing has become an arduous task rather than a labor of love, or if you don’t recognize the work anymore—it’s time for a break.

Get some distance between yourself and your manuscript by putting it away for a reasonable amount of time. Once that period has passed, pick up where you left off with fresh eyes ready to read through your content with improved objectivity. You might be surprised at how much clearer will seem just after taking a little break.

Feel free to give yourself permission to stop before you think you should. It may sound counterintuitive but sometimes too much editing can lead to poor quality writing which might not sit well with agents/editors once they read it. Be confident enough in your abilities as a writer.

Once editing is complete, it’s time to move on to the next stage in your writing process: revising and proofreading!

It’s time to put the red pen down

I know, I know, it’s tempting to keep editing after you’ve already finished a first draft. It’s like seeing your car all polished and shiny in the driveway, and wanting to keep going to make sure it stays that way. But over-editing is like washing your car over and over again—you’ll just end up using up all of your supplies, getting the car wet and dirty again, and possibly damaging the paint job. 

By following these simple tips you can avoid over-editing and instead continue the writing process with confidence!

Do you have any other tips in mind? What’s your process for finalizing edits? Let me know in the comments! 

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