I recently posed the following question to one of several Facebook writing groups with which I’m involved. “How do you know when you’re done editing?”
The answer may seem quite apparent at first glance. When everything is correct, obviously. But ‘correct’ is ambiguous. Everything within a given piece of work, be it fiction or otherwise, can be quite correct and the whole can still be garbage. Grammar, spelling, tense, these are all things that absolutely have to be correct at the end of the editing process though rarely are 100% correct at the beginning. But, even when all these features are correct, the work is not necessarily right.
If you have any writing experience you know what I mean. The purpose behind writing is to tell a story. More precisely, to tell a story well. Still more precisely, to tell a story in the best, possible way so as to truly move or affect the reader. This means, as far as the editing process is concerned, there is a lot of effort in ensuring the words you’ve written are not only correct, but perfectly aligned with every other word in the sentence, paragraph, page, entire work, to help the reader lose himself or herself in the prose. When the book finally touches the nightstand they should be so lost they have to blink and look around for a moment to remember where, and who, they are.
I’ve spent the last three weeks editing my first novel, ‘Falling Tears’. The first run through was to ensure that grammar, spelling and tense were correct. The second run through, currently halfway completed, has been focused on the actual language, the flow and imagery.
My first run-through, lasting two weeks, resulted in a cut of 17,050 words. A lot of this was needless repetition, sometimes of entire sentences, sometimes in the form of things such as: “He looked out the window right in front of him.” It’s more effective to write: “He looked out the window.” The rest is implied or at least only needs to be explained if the window is not right in front of him and that information is relevant to the plot.
Even after a two week effort I’m still finding similar examples in need of correction. Thus, my question to the Facebook group. It seems you could go on reviewing and correcting indefinitely, never actually being satisfied enough to submit the work to a publisher.
I received a lot of interesting answers from my fellow group members. One in particular struck me as very interesting. I’m paraphrasing: “You’re done when you can’t stand the damn thing anymore.” I believe this response was at least partially written tongue in cheek. But it may very well be that person’s true method for determining when the editing process is complete.
Over the last three weeks I’ve begun to arrive at the opposite end of the spectrum. Although I’ve been writing blogs, op-eds, magazine and newspaper articles and short stories for years, this is, granted, my first novel. So what do I know. But it occurs to me that when you spend so much time completely immersed in the work, sitting for hours next to the wood stove or a sunny window, slowly sipping gallons of coffee, you begin to understand the work as though it were one of your favorite characters. You work on a particular word or turn of phrase, testing and retesting different combinations until you finally sit back, smile and think to yourself: ‘Yes. That’s it. Just like that. Perfect!’ And then you move onto the next word in the line and start again.
As I wrap up this post and head back to the editing I find myself looking forward to the effort, almost longing for the opportunity to once again lose myself in the act of ensuring each syllable is painstakingly chosen and perfectly placed with its neighbors to make sure future readers find themselves hopelessly immersed in the story. Only then, when every single word makes me say, ah…I love it, will the work be ready for submission.