Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Much Editing?

A member of my writing group is in the process of rewriting a draft of her novel. She recently wrote on her blog about the dilemma of editing. How much is enough? When do you stop? Of course, she wrote about this question in a way more eloquent manner than this. You can read her post here.

So here are some of my thought on editing:

I think it really depends. When I write a poem, I write in bursts. Words and images come, I set them down, then contemplate, and put down a few more words. It's word by word and line by line. I write slowly, but then when I have written the draft of the poem, it is close to being finished; I do very little editing.

When I write nonfiction, articles and chapters, I also write slowly, crafting each sentence as I go. Each time I sit down to write some more, I reread what I have already written, and edit it. So then by the time I have completed a draft, it needs little editing. Usually, I package it up and send it off quickly. Partly this is because I have *no time in my life* so I am forced to be efficient, and partly it is to prevent myself from adding any more to it (because, invariably, my editing takes the form of adding, and the manuscripts are always too long already). The reviewers always have suggestions for revisions, and by the time it comes back, I have some distance from my piece, and usually I make a number of editorial changes then. (Sometimes I even cut a bit!)

But for my (almost completed) novel, I am way less sure about how I will accomplish the editing. I have tried not to get stuck into editing mode while still getting the first draft down on the page. But, as with the other genres, I still have written very slowly, crafting as I go. (I thought I was finished some time ago except for a short transition between sections, but the transition keeps growing, chapter by chapter.) The challenge that I am finding is figuring out how to keep the coherence and flow consistent in such a long manuscript. I think my editing problems will be at that level more than at the word-by-word level.


  1. It really is a "depends" kind of question, isn't it? I wish there was a clearer answer, but you pretty much nailed it with that. :)

    I also think that your uncertainty about the novel is exactly why people say not to worry about editing matters until you're finished the whole thing. You can second guess yourself a lot, almost to the point where you won't finish the thing at all. And like you say, you can see the whole arc of the thing so much better when it's all together, done.

  2. I'd like to get to that point -- all together, done. Then I'd like to let it rest for a bit, and come back with fresh eyes and read the whole thing through, making quickie notes about obvious needed changes that stand out. Like -- what happens to the alcoholic brother at the end? And what should I do with that strange bit in the middle when Jeannette's voice pops in, then disappears again? But until I get the first draft done, I don't want to tinker with structural changes too much.