Editing: What’s the Magic Number?

You’ve been writing for hours.  Is it time to edit?


It depends on what type of editing you’re thinking of implementing.

Do you find it helps you refocus the direction of your story to stop at the end of the day and spend some time doing a light edit of the pages you’ve just written?  Some writers find this practice very useful.  And some of us like to read the previous day’s pages and do a light edit that gets the story flowing again as you start writing each day.

Then there’s the editing we do when we’ve finished a first draft.  If you wait until you have a complete rough draft, and I do mean rough, you can go through the whole story looking for grammar, punctuation, spelling and continuity errors.  Ideally, you’ll be looking for each of these problems on separate sweeps of your manuscript.  It’s easy to overlook a simple spelling mistake when you’ve just discovered a missing scene.

Then there’s the professional edit.  This is accomplished after you’ve done your daily or weekly edits, and after you’ve edited your entire first draft.  You’ve also rewritten your story or manuscript a few times, refining plot, action and dialogue.

But let’s say you’ve already done the initial edits, several rewrites, a professional edit…and you’re still tinkering with your story.  You rearrange paragraphs and sentences, and then return them to their original configuration.  You obsess over the formatting, the chapter titles, over the wording of the last paragraph.

It’s time to stop!

Stop editing your work to the point it becomes stilted and wooden.  Stop editing until you lose the charm of your character’s voice.  Stop editing your story to death.

It’s hard, I know, to make the decision that your words are presented as perfectly as possible.

There really is no set number of edits to guarantee your story or manuscript shines brighter than the sun.  You’ll get a feeling for what’s needed on each project as you gain experience with what your agent or editor looks for in your work.

Take a deep breath and believe that you have written the best story you’ve ever committed to paper or electrons.  Know that you have taken every step necessary to ensure your work is polished and professional.  Now it’s time to set your words free.

Your readers are waiting.


Do you have a good method for deciding when you have edited your work as much as needed?  Have you ever found yourself unable to stop editing, to the point you’ve ruined your story?  Leave a comment and tell us about your experience, and how you resolved the urge to over-edit your work.