The Self Editing Sweet Spot for Writers

Whether they’re self-published, traditionally published or whatever, the author is always the first editor of their own work. Because, as the old saw goes, “Writing is re-writing.”

The tricky part is when to stop. Three edits, four, nine, twenty? You hear about Hemingway editing a story 18 times, and it makes you feel inadequate or lazy. So how many edits is the right number?

I believe there is a sweet spot for self editing. If you raced through the first draft, you probably need to slow down for the second draft. If the first draft was slow and careful, maybe you can speed up on the second one. But either way, you should stay with the manuscript long enough to make it as good as you can–and to learn all that you can from it.

If you stop too soon, you skip the hard lessons found during re-writing. You don’t cut the excess, you don’t rearrange scenes, you don’t introduce or cut subplots and characters. To improve your craft, you need to stay with the manuscript enough to learn everything you can from it.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have authors that stay too long. This is easier to determine than not staying long enough. When you reach the point where you start changing individual words and sentences back to how they were a few drafts ago, you’re tinkering. You’re not editing anymore, you’re tinkering.

Because the first time you see something that needs improvement, it’s obvious, and you change it. When you start second guessing that process, you’ve hung on to the manuscript too long. Send it out, take a few weeks off, and then start a new project.

The more you write, the better you’ll get at finding this sweet spot. So look at your current work in progress and be honest with yourself. Is it time to knuckle down and do the hard work, or is it time to send it out and move on?

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