Saturday, May 14, 2011

Over Editing

Is there such a thing as over editing? We're supposed to prune unnecessary words and crop useless scenes, but sometimes I wonder if I'm going too far.

During the polishing stage, I've likened my manuscript to a rose bush (it's a stretch, I know). I've chopped off the dead, ugly branches, but I've also come dangerously close to snipping off lush flowers. When our brains are on editing overload, how can we decipher the unsightly from the beautiful? Here's what I'm learning:
  • Listen to our readers. If our critique partners starred a line, or complimented a word choice, why mess with it?
  • Read each sentence in context. If we pluck a sentence out of the blue, it's possible it won't sound quite right. But within the context of a scene, it might work.
  • Read nonfiction books on our subject. In this post I outlined how this step helped open a treasure box of useful words.
  • Refer to a list of no-no or addictive words. Adverbs should be used sparingly, but a well-placed adverb sometimes makes sense. (Keli Gwyn wrote a great post about 12 Weak Words)
  • Step away. When every word, sentence, and paragraph looks like a tumbleweed, it's time to take a break. A walk, a movie, or a few chapters of a good book does wonders for a writer's soul.
We don't want a stark, brittle manuscript that we've whittled down to a colorless stump. We're striving for a bouquet of words, and should be careful not to clip too much.

Are you ever in danger of over editing? Or is there no such thing? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

34 comments:

  1. A bouquet of words, I love that! Very well said. I have overedited and cut out too much. Too many workshops and different opinions can have that affect. In the end I think all we can do is stay true to our vision for the story.

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  2. My boyfriend has told me before that sometimes I probably edit more in my book than I need to. I actually think we ourselves are the harshest critics. I know when I'm reading my own work, I just feel like there are so many problems and I NEED to edit, edit, edit.
    I think what you said is true, though. If it gets to the point where we want to edit everything, we need to take a break and find something else to do.
    And I think you'll know if you over edit because if you do, chances are the book won't be what it once was.

    Always,
    Lindsey

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  3. Hello new here!

    I think over editing is a real challenge but a necessary evil. That's why I try never to linger on any section too long. Otherwise I will convince myself that its total rubbish and start all over.

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  4. I am editing and revising right now and I def wonder if I'm over doing it in some areas. An artist's work is never done.

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  5. I don't know if there's over editing...because I know that I'm looking at my novel right now, thinking how much I love certain parts of it, but knowing I'm going to cut them. I'm in need of trimming words anyway.

    I do think if you stare at it constantly and doing take a break by reading other things or working on something else, it will become overwhelming.

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  6. Oh there you go scaring me just as I begin revisions! :P LOL I think your comparison is spot on. We want to trim the stuff that lets the beauty beneath shine through, not cut into the thing itself.

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  7. YES!! Sadly overediting exists! And those points you name there are really helpful! THANKS!
    You know what I try to ask myself? Is this better? Or it's just different? If it's just different, then I think I'm finished editing.

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  8. YES, YES, YES. I know I over-edit. I stress out about the whole list of "don't" swirling in my head. I've also been guilty of trimming my roses back too far. Love your comment about keeping the pieces that critique partners star. So true.

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  9. I know there is such a thing as over editing… the trick—or the one thing separating the published from the unpublished—is to know when enough is enough. Just like a gem-cutter who shapes an ugly chunk of a diamond into a one-of-a-kind piece of art: if the artist takes the shaping/cutting to far the piece is ruined and worthless. We as writers need to learn what tid-bits make our work shine, and leave those intangibles that make it stand out in a crowd.

    Good luck to all those authors out there who are struggling through the editing process, (as I am now) remember what your trying to tell, and who you want your book to appeal to… we can’t please every reader----BUT, we should please our intended audience!!!!!!

    So take that piece of advice with you to the chopping block. I sure hope your work comes out stronger, and ready for the publishing world.

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  10. "When every word, sentence, and paragraph looks like a tumbleweed, it's time to take a break."

    So true! Put down the MS and back away slowly. It's like when I clean my son's bedroom. At some point I get tired and start throwing everything away. That's when I know it's time for a break. :)

    Great post.

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  11. I get nervous about this too--we're told so many times to only keep what's necessary, that sometimes overplucking occurs. That's where beta readers are so important to me :)

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  12. Thanks for the weak word link! Really helpful. Great point about needing to take a break when everything starts to look bad :)

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  13. well, since I"m more of an underwriter to start with, I'm more in danger of over-editing... wait. is that the same thing? LOL!

    No, I have to watch when I go back and "beef up" that I don't unintentionally make things repetitive. You're so right about the stepping away from the tumbleweeds, and now I need to go check that weak words post! Thanks, Julie~

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  14. Yes, I'm worrying about this very thing right now! Each time I read a page I want to change something else.. I'm not sure I will ever break out of that habit... you're right, and this is why beta readers are incredibly helpful :)

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  15. All good points, especially the last. Sometimes stepping away is the best way to get the perspective we need.

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  16. Loved the links to the word lists. Very helpful.

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  17. And I am stepping away now for a while, as I find myself placing commas in everywhere, and then taking them out again. And as I do this, Also as I read a passage, I'm tempted to say it another way. Sometimes transforming a sentence will sound better, but how can you really know? Nice to know, you are all feeling the same.


    Quote from Gustave Flaubert.
    "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it."

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  18. I think once I get through the suggested corrections from my three critique partners and two test readers and I smooth out the changes for myself, I will be done editing!

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  19. I tend to write sparingly anyway. When I edit, I have to actually go back and make it a little more descriptive! Yikes!!! Great advice, though.

    Hope you're having a great weekend!

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  20. I overedited my first book, but thankfully my editor and I sat down and looked at the original draft I had saved before the over edits messed it up. As it was a small book, we managed to salvage it.

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  21. There's definitely such a thing as over-editing - I've done a fair bit of it myself. LOL

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  22. It's so easy to over-edit and lose the magic of a story. Luckily for picture book writers that can be rectified quickly by using a previous draft.

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  23. Re your first point, I think's so helpful for beta readers to not only point out the flaws, but also mention what they liked - so you don't leave their favourite paragraph on the cutting room floor!

    As for over-editing, I'm sure it's possible. You don't want to lose the story's sparkle because you've scrubbed it too clean.

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  24. With the first ms I wrote, I do think I over-edited. I've set it aside for about a year now. I'm hoping to look at it with fresh eyes at some point. I just need a few more hours in the day :)

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  25. Great points, Julie. Editing is such a delicate process. As a former newspaper editor, I can be a ruthless editor of my own writing -- fiction or non. Good idea to keep different drafts. I've been remiss about this.

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  26. I think we can definitely over edit and take away the original voice of our manuscript by trying to polish and just taking out anything that doesn't follow a rule.

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  27. Great post, Julie! I think it is possible to edit the voice out of your manuscript.

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  28. Yes! You can edit that voice right out of your manuscript. This usually happens when you take EVERY single suggestion given to you by your betas and CP's.

    It's really easy to do though. Sometimes, you have to just let those comments/suggestions sit and then come back and ONLY use the ones that speak to you and the story.

    Go with your gut.

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  29. Oy--I can so relate to this. I suffer from looking at most pieces and wanting to toss IT ALL!

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  30. Excellent advice. I think some of the strongest hints can come from both your beta readers and just taking a step away for a while. When you're in line edits, tearing through your piece it can be really hard to see the damage that you can do to that rose bush. A dead stalk may actually be hiding a bud that could not be seen through another unkempt section. Careful sculpting indeed.

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  31. I've learned that in addition to listening to your readers, you have to listen to your characters as well. If your characters and their story is no longer being heard due to your edits, you've either gone too far or gone in the wrong direction.

    <3 Gina Blechman

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  32. I think there is such a thing as over editing. Edit too much and you might lose the essence of your story.

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