Today Kyle A. Massa from ProWritingAid is helping us with a problematic decision: knowing WHEN it’s time to stop editing a manuscript. Read on!
When’s the right time to stop editing?
If you answered, “Never,” this article is for you.
For a manuscript to become a book, editing must eventually end. If you just keep going, no one will ever read your work (except maybe your mom). So the question is, when is it good enough? When can you be sure it’s safe to stop editing and hit “Submit”?
That’s what we’ll cover in today’s article. If any of these three signs sound familiar, you’re done. No more edits!
You’re Making Changes, Not Improvements
Writing a manuscript is a lot like American football: only forward progress counts. Lateral movement, on the other hand, won’t get you any closer to the end zone.
There may come a point in your editing process where it feels like you’re moving laterally. This happened to me while editing my book. A few weeks before my deadline (more on those in a minute), I began rearranging chapters, toying with fonts, and tweaking character names. At some point, I realized none of these changes made the work any better—they just made it different. Adding a syllable to a supporting character’s surname was lateral movement, not forward progress.
My own personal theory on this phenomenon is simple: we get scared. As we near our deadline and editing time dwindles, we subconsciously realize that we’ll soon be unable to make any further changes. As a result, we compensate by making too many changes.
While editing, constantly ask yourself, “Is this an improvement or a change?” If it’s the former, do it. If it’s the latter, don’t. And if it continues to be the latter, you’re probably done editing.
You’re Going to Miss Your Deadline
You might’ve heard this Douglas Adams quote before: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
Hilarious? Absolutely. Worthy of emulation? Certainly not.
If you’re editing so much that you’re going to miss your deadline, you’re likely editing too much. As long as you’re working on your manuscript consistently and diligently, you should be done by the date you’ve been assigned (or chosen yourself). If you allow yourself to miss one deadline, what’s to stop you from missing more? And at that point, you’ve likely entered into changes-not-improvements territory.
Furthermore, you don’t want to become known as an author who misses deadlines. Douglas Adams can joke about it because he wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For the rest of us, missing deadlines is a sure way to build a bad reputation. Publishers certainly won’t like it; They need manuscripts submitted on-time to fulfill their scheduling needs. And if publishers won’t work with you, your agent won’t be able to find you work, which will soon leave you agentless. When that happens, it won’t matter how much time you’ve devoted to editing—your manuscript won’t get published!
Indie authors might be in the corner giggling to themselves right now, but be forewarned. Your readers expect a steady output of work, perhaps even more than they’d expect from a traditionally published author. If you shirk deadlines, you produce less work. The less work you produce, the less likely your audience is to continue supporting you.
Yes, this tip will certainly vary depending on the writer. You might uncover a gaping hole in your plot late in the editing process and have no choice but to seek an extension. However, standard procedure should be as follows: set a reasonable deadline, then stop editing once you reach it.
You’re Sick of Your Project
Again, this one will vary from writer to writer. Some might never tire of a manuscript, while others might grow sick of their work after a month. Yet for most authors, losing interest in a project likely means it’s time to stop editing. Here’s why.
The first few days and weeks of manuscript editing are always exciting. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve seen your draft in a month, or maybe you just finished yesterday. Either way, the fun comes from improvement. You’ll likely find something to refine on every single page in these early stages. That’s forward progress, and any forward progress is bound to be thrilling.
But as weeks turn to months and you’ve been reading the same passages over and over, your interest will invariably wane. That’s because as you improve the quality of your manuscript, the need for further changes declines. Eventually, you’ll find yourself reading and re-reading work that can’t be made any better (at least not by you).
That’s why you get sick of it. That’s when it’s time to stop editing. Submit, then start the next one.
Editing a manuscript can be just as time-intensive as writing it, if not more so. But editing time isn’t infinite—nor should it be. At some point, you need to stop. The world wants to read your work!
Kyle A. Massa is an independent speculative fiction author and a marketing specialist at ProWritingAid. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading, running, drumming, and playing with his cats. His debut novel, Gerald Barkley Rocks, is available for Amazon Kindle.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Mark Marderosian says
Nice article. EXCELLENT point about making change for its own sake and not as improvements.
I know I’ve taken a story as far as it can go when I feel that everything the characters want to say has now been said. If I’m driving along thinking about them & their personalities and no further incidents come to mind that could be added to deepen their place in the story, then I feel nothing is missing. It’s time to exit the stage.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Whenever I get sick of a project I will put it in the drawer for a week or two, then read it in full. Most of the time, I don’t find anything significant to change so I make a few minor tweaks if needed and then send it out. 🙂
Ingmar Albizu says
Great article, Kyle. I usually go through at least five drafts, sometimes more. But I know when to stop. I think.
BECCA PUGLISI says
That third point is golden. I get to that point with every manuscript (I’m a fiddler), and that’s when I know it’s time to kick it to the curb. Thanks for being here today!
Peter Martin says
… and now it’s time to send to your editor so he/she can tell you everything you missed in glorious blood-red ink