How do you know when you’re finished editing?

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you know when you’re finished editing? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript: 

How do you know when you’re finished editing? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.

I have a question from Leann Zarah, a writer based in San Pedro, the Philippines. Here’s what she’s asked by email….

I often ask myself if what I’ve written makes sense even after several revisions. Thus, at what point should a writer be ‘satisfied’ (for lack of a better word) with the edited version of her or his work?”

Thanks for your question, Leann. You’ve hit on a really important point here and I have two suggestions for you.

My first is to follow a process for editing. Don’t just read and re-read your text with the vague intent of making it better. That is a totally dysfunctional — and thoroughly inadequate — way to edit and will only make you feel even more insecure.

I’ve written a number of posts on the editing process and I include links to them in the show-notes below.  As a summary, though, understand you’ll need to do at least two quite different types of editing. 

The first is called substantive or developmental editing. This focuses entirely on CONTENT. When you’re doing this edit, you focus on questions like:

  • Have I made my point persuasively enough?
  • Have I given enough evidence?
  • Have I presented my material in the best possible order?
  • Have I given too much information and perhaps confused the reader?

This edit does not care about spelling mistakes or grammar. It focuses on meaning. It addresses what you are trying to accomplish with your writing.

You may be more familiar with the second type of edit. This one goes by the name copy editing or line editing. Here you are looking at spelling and grammar, of course, but you’re also looking at deeper, more specific issues:

  • Word choice 
  • Sentence length
  • Repetition
  • Passive voice

You can get software to help you with copy editing. I highly recommend ProWritingAid, link in the show-notes. I’m not a reseller so I offer this advice free from bias.

My second suggestion is to ensure a long period of incubation before you start editing. What do I mean by that? Take a break from that piece of writing and ignore it for as long as you can. If you edit too soon after writing, you won’t have nearly enough perspective to be a good self-editor. I’ve written a detailed blog post on the value of incubation and I include the link in the show-notes.

Being an effective self-editor is an important part of being a writer. Even if you’re lucky enough to have an external editor, it’s a smart idea to do a strong self-edit, first. This way, your material will be in the best possible shape before you submit it to someone else.

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the bestselling writer Charles Finch:

“The single greatest ally we have is time. There’s no page of prose in existence that its author can’t improve after it’s been in a drawer for a week…. Every time I finish a story or a book, I try to put it away and forget it for as long as I can. When I return, its problems are often so obvious and easy to fix that I’m amazed I ever struggled with them.” 

Leann, writers are notoriously bad judges of the quality of their own work. They tend to either over-estimate or under-estimate it’s value. The best way to know when you’ve finished editing is to have a well-defined editing process, and to use the tincture of time to help.

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If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 

Links  

Your complete self-editing checklist

How do I make editing easier (video)

Is it worth paying for ProWritingAid?

Incubation

Your Happy First Draft

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