Is there such a thing as over-editing?

June 9, 2011 in Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

The last week or so I had been desperately trying to get my manuscript into shape (or at least the part of it that I had to prepare for submission).

I had already touched on how difficult it is to edit your own work in a previous post, but what I have realised lately is that there comes a time when you just don’t know whether further editing is beneficial or detrimental to your work anymore!

Of course, I’m not talking about copyediting — what I am referring to is more substantial edits and rewrites.

My supervisor had given me a number of high level suggestions to improve my work, which required a lot of thought, a bit of deletion and more addition.  So I went ahead and tried to implement the suggestions while also attempting to fix the narrative on a sentence by sentence level.  Of course, I was reading everything out (a huge help), though it did give me a sore throat by the end of the day.

Anyway, it got to a point where I had done perhaps 5, 8 or even 10 drafts of individual chapters, and to be honest I couldn’t tell if the newer versions were any better than the older ones.  I was afraid I had deleted quality stuff and added stuff that didn’t improve the story.  Just how do you know, when everything starts to look the same and all versions start blurring into one?

It was something I discussed in class the other day, and as it turned out, fear of over-editing was a common occurrence, even for experienced writers.  The recommendation was to put the work aside to sit for a while, go do something else, take your mind off it, and when you’re ready, come back to it and read it again with fresher eyes.  And if you are game, showing the different versions to friends for comment would also be very helpful.

The most important thing to remember, of course, is to keep track of all your different versions and don’t save or write over them so if an older version is indeed better or there are deletions you want to reinsert you’ll have access to them.