Writers love to write. Who would have thought? Then they finish their story and have to edit. Gasps, grabs chest in panic! There are some crazy people out there who enjoy editing; some who go so far as to love it! I am convinced they are delusional.
Most of us rely on others to fix our work for us, but before that can happen we need to do the initial editing ourselves. I’ve just finished the first edit of my second book and am finding myself changing sentences as I usually do, only to change them back on the second read. I have come to realise that there are really two types of editing;
(Type 1) The Necessary: This is the editing that removes grammatical mistakes. Wrong words, bad spelling, incorrect punctuation and other things that are just plain wrong by language standards.
(Type 2) The Superficial: This is the editing that moves a word around or changes a phrase slightly to change the narrative itself. Often this will improve your work, but it is ultimately a matter of taste.
Getting your manuscript ready for submission/publication is a process of doing the Necessary editing first and fully, and then knowing when to stop with the Superficial. Most people have heard of overcooking your manuscript. And I firmly believe there is such a thing. In fact, without care, one can easily set the house of fire by leaving the editing in the oven unchecked.
This also applies to the situation where you have multiple editors/beta readers. Everyone’s tastes differ and sometimes as the author you need to take creative control and stick with what makes you happiest. I have had 6 different people read a single chapter and all want to change the same sentence to 6 different things.
Excess Superficial editing takes up a lot of precious time. Time that could be spent marketing your book or writing your next book. So the key is to know when to say enough is enough and finalise your manuscript.
If I have learnt anything it is that no matter how many times you change things, you will always look back at your own work and want to fix it. Writing is a skill that continues to grow, so it is only natural that you will feel you can write that sentence better. At some point you need to bite the bullet and give your work to your audience.
Just like buying a new TV, in 6 months there will be a better version for the same price. Six months from now your writing will have improved and you could rewrite your story to improve it. You need to eventually draw the line and finalise your story.
Watch out for the Superficial editing trap. Have confidence in your work and just get it out there. Don’t leave the oven on, nobody likes an overcooked manuscript.