Writer’s Craft #57 – Is There Such a Thing as Over-Editing?

Healther Bax
Healther Bax

Heather Ray Bax studied English and Classics at the University of Alberta before pursuing a graduate degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario. She currently works at Simon Fraser University and the New Westminster Public Library. Heather is the author of The Charm Tree, book one of the Shansymoon Series, and she writes poetry for children and adults. To learn more, please visit www.heatherbax.ca

I’m a fledgling writer. I’ve written the first book of a children’s fantasy series, and I’m currently working on the second book. No wait — I’m actually revising the first book … yet again. As a self-published writer, I didn’t work with a professional editor. As a new writer, I probably should have. The Charm Tree was written years ago within a 3-month period between jobs. Creating the first draft was an amazing experience. I felt transported into the world I was creating, and there was certainly no lack of inspiration.

Years later, I decided to publish the book, and the real editing process began. I became immersed in reading about how to write. Whenever I learned something new, I felt I needed to go over the manuscript to make the appropriate changes. The more I read, the more revisions there were. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, I found this process very long and painful.

Finally, I self-published. Soon after, I wanted a redo to make some changes and fix mistakes. I’ve also become interested in working with a traditional publisher, so I enlisted the services of a professional editor. She had some very useful insights and suggestions, and once more, I find myself in the revision process.

When do you feel you’ve done the best you can do and it’s time to let your baby go?


13 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #57 – Is There Such a Thing as Over-Editing?

  1. Heather, there’s definitely such a thing as too much editing. Especially when you get multiple experts having at it, or get contradictory advice in a writers group that seems more intent on proving something about the advisors than in helping you. I think the key is to tackle re-working in phases where there’s a “no thank you” rule to substantive editing input at the copyediting or proof-reading stage. Share your angst about the horrid typos that get into a final product! Just getting a crack at fixing errors in Courtesan Prince now that it is coming out in kindle.

    1. Thanks, Lynda! That’s very helpful advice. I think with more writing experience I’ll feel more confident and have a greater sense of when to accept editing suggestions and when to go with my initial instinct. And congratulations on your publication of Courtesan Prince in Kindle! That’s great news!

  2. I feel I’ve done my best and it’s as good as I can make it when I’ve taken it all the way through Holly Lisle’s “How to Revise Your Novel” course. Then I know I’ve followed a systematic method (it worked for her over the course of 32 books in print!) that addresses all the issues except my actual ability to write well. The course is more difficult than any of my college courses, and once I’ve gone through those worksheets and subjects, I know I’ve done all I can do.

  3. Good post. I did a similar one on my blog a while back–yes, I think you can over edit a work. As a new writer you of course need to get all the help you can but you can lose sight of that original kernel of thought if you aren’t careful. Everyone has a unique vision to impart and you need to pick and choose carefully when listening to criticism. Tearing something down is easy–the focus needs to be on the building–brick by brick with the proper mortar to hold it together.

    1. Hi, Nikki. Thanks for your comments. Honouring your initial vision and inspiration is important. It’s where the magic lies after all! It’s also important to use your intuition to detect a critic’s motivation: to provide constructive criticism, to satisfy his or her own ego (which Lynda alluded to above), or simply to tear you down as a writer.

  4. This doesn’t seem to me a typical case of “over-editing, working a story to death.” Of course you found many things to improve when you revisited the previous versions of your novel, because you had let a lot of time pass, and more important, you had worked hard in the interim to improve your writing. This will happen any time you look back at older work.
    I think there are 2 ways to know when to put a story down. First, if you sell it, you’re done. No rewrites for later editions,just because you can write better now than you could when it was first published. Only George Lucas thinks that approach is okay.
    And second, when you haven’t sold the story after a number of tries, and by now, you have many newer, stronger, more interesting story ideas to pursue than this old one that never took. Then its time to accept that the old story was a good writing exercise that now belongs in a drawer.

    1. Great advice! It’s human nature to improve our skills the more we work at them, and it’s quite interesting to see how a person has “grown” as an author by looking back at their previous works. If writers were constantly altering their published works, how could readers possibly keep up? It’s best to take what we’ve learned as writers and move on to new projects. Otherwise, we stagnate.

  5. Hi Lynda,

    Sorry to leave an unrelated comment, but I couldn’t find any contact info for you. I’m wondering if you’d be interested in a guest post. Please drop me an e-mail.



    1. Always interested in guests for the Writer’s Craft, Brittany. Especially from people who comment. Send subs to lynda@okalrel.org with Clarion in the subject line. Peer-to-peer tone. Look at previous posts for Writer’s Craft for length etc. Bio and pic required. Ditto.

  6. I’ve traditionally published over a dozen stories and self-published four novels. Every one of them is different. Some need substantial work, but when they do I “feel” they aren’t quite right and don’t publish them until they are. Always when I finish a first draft I set it aside, usually for a few months or so, then I go over it with fresh vision. Often I just need to correct a few misspellings and grammar mistakes. Okay, I’ll be honest, though. I go through my material four or five times before I let it loose upon the world, but only because I am a perfectionist. And I don’t take forever at it. I read it through as a reader would looking for oversights, inconsistencies, and so on. No story is perfect – not even those by the masters. I find mistakes in almost everything I read, even award-winning stories and novels. The best is to give it a reasonable amount of attention, send it around or publish it, and move on to the next one.

    1. Thanks, John! You make some good points regarding editing: the value of setting aside your first draft for awhile before approaching it again with fresh eyes and using your intuition to get a sense of when your work is ready for publication.

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