Are you editing too much?

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about editing too much…

Writers tend to fall into one of two categories:

They love writing and they hate editing. Or, they hate writing and they love editing. If you fall into the second category (which is the much more common one, by the way) you may have difficulty in stopping editing. How do you know when good enough is actually good enough? How can you ever be certain when it’s time to stop.

Writer Audrey Kalman addresses the question of when to stop editing in a recent post on Jane Friedman’s excellent website. The headline is: “How to Free Yourself from Endless Revision.

I particularly liked the way Kalman identified three different problems leading to endless revision. And of course, each problem requires its own solution. Here’s what she said:

Problem #1: You have a dead engine. Sometimes called the story engine, spark or problem this concept represents the story’s underlying logic — the question that keeps readers turning pages. If you don’t know that that question is, you’re going to have difficulty finishing your editing. To solve this problem, Kalman suggests taking a break from your writing or otherwise leaving your comfort zone, perhaps by changing your writing locations, rewriting the story as a poem or putting each plot point on an index card, throwing the cards in the air, and reassembling them in the new order.

Problem #2: You’re worrying that there must be something more. You wonder if your structure is right, whether the book should be organized around different themes, or whether you should go back to a completely new drawing board. If you’re in this situation, Kalman suggests examining your motivations. Why are you  writing the book? Go beyond surface-level answers to explore the deeper question. And if you can’t answer it, consider getting professional help — whether that’s an editor or a mental health professional.

Problem #3: Fear of finishing up. Are you simply unwilling to let your book go?  If that’s your issue Kalman has four suggestions: First, work to decouple the book from your identity. Second, accept the idea of  a good-enough book and let go of the need for unachievable perfection. Third, get excited about a new project. (Nothing helps like distraction!) Fourth, find a support system.

As Kalman puts it, if you want to stop editing too much, “find fellow writers who can remind you of why you’re writing and help subdue the internal voices insisting that your book won’t be worthy unless you work on it for another five years.”

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