Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

To Edit or Not to Edit, That is the Question

Words matter. Writers and storytellers live and love them. And when we write, we choose words carefully because we want to craft expressive phrases and images that are, to quote Goldilocks, “just right.”

Every time that sought-after “just right” word clicks into place, it’s as satisfying as popping a non-dairy chocolate chip. A really productive day is metaphorically fattening and worth every bite.

The art of writing expresses meaning, catches mood, and matches words and image. It is also about getting rid of the passive voice and all of those inefficient extra terms and bulky word orders that make phrases really awkward and that unnecessarily increase the word count.

Editing is important.

But at what point does the editing process change from editing to perseverating?

In my work, I usually stop editing when I can read the piece all the way through without a desire to alter text. Sometimes that happens quickly, and other times, well…

When do you stop editing and call it done? How do you stop yourself from spinning around on the hamster wheel of “cut and paste” and “Control-Z” and finally, finally call it a wrap?

— Jeri

Photo Credit: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

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6 thoughts on “To Edit or Not to Edit, That is the Question

  1. That’s a hard question.
    When I wrote short stories (which I haven’t written since I started my current project), I usually worked through three drafts. I knew that after three drafts the story was basically fine.

    But with this project? With a trilogy of novels?
    I haven’t discovered yet. All I know is I’m not done yet, both becuase I feel it in my guts, this story can be much better… and because my beta readers are telling me the same 😉

    So let’s see. I suppose, when I’ll gone through the complete process of at least have one novel, maybe I’ll know.

    • Yes, that’s my trick. I don’t always know either… for some of my pieces I just KNOW. Still, like you, all my stuff goes through drafts, but sometimes I spend so much time rearranging sentences, changing words… that’s why I try to use the ‘rule’ that if I get through a read without wanting to change something, that is good. In a novel (not my genre) I can only imagine that subtle changes in one place “force” changes elsewhere.

      How great to have readers who are carefully and honestly working with you on your triplets! And trusting your gut is so important…

  2. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read through something I’ve written and not want to tweak something at some point. For me, I stop editing when my edits become “fiddly.” Such as me laboring over word choice and little else. I do have a fear of over-editing… the fear that too much snipping and changing might edit the soul out of a story. My current manuscript is toeing that line. I feel like I just need to let it go before I break it hehe.

    • Yes, the over editing demon can sanitize the soul of things – but that I imagine that it is more dangerous for fiction? Sometimes the fiddly demon is very good for trimming the fat on my non-fiction material — but still it can get OCD!! I am forcing myself to complete something right now – my blog post was a way to push myself to call it finished – thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      And don’t break your new piece…!

  3. I think I stop editing when I feel that the story had come to life. When it feels real and alive, when it flows, and as you said, when you can read it all from start to end without stumbling into something that doesn’t feel right. Getting to that spot is the most difficult thing for me. I haven’t been able to reach the “ok, i can stop editing now” spot in my novels. I have accomplished it with some short stories, and with blogs, although they are not perfect, is just the “it feels alive now” factor the decisive point. Also, is very easy to keep going and over-edit, which is dangerous. It can kill the story, and break the point between coming to life, and starting to feel artificial and robotic. If life has teach us something, is that in order to something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be perfect. 🙂 the beauty, life and uniqueness lays on the imperfections. I have to keep that in mind… maybe I’ll be able to stop editing one of this days….

    • Coming to life, that is a great way to think about this. And I agree, over editing can kill the spirit of a piece too, or at least dampen it significantly. I like what you say about the imperfections. “The beauty, life, and uniqueness lays on the imperfections.” I should post this on my mirror and my computer.

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