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One More Time Around: When are you finished editing?

A Writer’s Nightmare

We’ve all been there.

It’s late at night and you’ve been working tirelessly to finish your first draft. With the end in sight, you begin to race to the finish, fingers darting across the keyboard with precision, keys clicking feverishly, wavering only as the final words appear on the page, as if by magic. Then the clicks come slower and slower in anticipation of what comes next. A few more clicks echo out.

Then there is silence in the room.

You might not have typed those fabled words, but you know that you have reached it: THE END.

You did it, another job well done! You are elated, as you should be. Be it a novel, a short story, a poem, or a blog post, it wasn’t easy. Sitting back, you know you have done something special. You just know it.

And now, for many writers, the real work begins.

Editing is as vital to good craftwork as the actual writing process itself, and while the relationship between writer and editor can be a turbulent one, the writer has just as much an obligation to produce the highest quality polished work as possible before submitting their project to an editor.

Creating polished work of this caliber requires a certain degree of self-editing.

Now, before you say it, no, you don’t have to be an editor on the level with a Maxwell Perkins, or even Charles Foster Kane, but you must develop an eye for what requires revision, as well as what can stay, and more importantly, what can go.

It may seem a daunting task, but the first step is the most difficult part.

Are you done? Good. Now walk away.

The first step to successful editing, whether you are working on that meticulously crafted first novel or the most recent internal report at work that’s due by end of day, you still need to take a moment to reflect, and allow your mind to wander in other realms.

This step is typically dictated by your own schedule more than anything else, but I have found that the longer you let something sit, the better the end result will be. If you are looking at the manuscript of your first novel and no one else knows about it, then keep it that way. Put it in a drawer for a month or two. Visit one of the other worlds you’ve been dreaming up, begin research on the next novel or story, or maybe take some time out to read.

I made a similar suggestion in my first Writer’s Corner article about what to do with Writer’s Block. Take some time off, the words will come back. Same idea. Funny how that works out, right? Yet in this case, instead of walking away to find the words, you are walking away to get away from them.

Space and time will allow you to come back with fresh eyes to an old project. The less proximity you have to your work between the first and second draft, the better you will be able to assess it upon returning to your project.

And if it is that TPS report that can’t wait? Put it in the drawer, and work on the next assignment for as long as you can afford. Even if you can only leave it alone for an hour, it is better than getting to the final page and immediately jumping back to page one, red pen in hand, ready strike.

I have been in both situations and I promise, while the urge will be unbearable, you will ultimately spend less time working on the second draft if you give yourself the time and space you need to really absorb the work. You’ll see the errors, the mistakes, and the weak points; you will know exactly what needs to be done.

And hey, if this step goes well enough, you’re second draft might be the final one.

Second time around, might do it

So, as much time as possible has passed and you’re ready to come back? Good. Roll up your sleeves and break out the red pen. Or turn on track changes, it’s up to you really.

Remember, there is no one right way to do it. I like to edit on paper when I can justify it because I find it easier to make notes and references, but track changes on Word or markup on Adobe works just fine.

Write your way, and when in doubt, write it out. The same basic logic applies for editing.

You are now reading your own work the way that someone else might read it for the first time. Only you still have the luxury of making revisions where you have to, and rewriting where necessary.

It is okay to be brutal with yourself at this stage of the game. Read your work with a critical eye, like Ernest Hemingway was known for doing in his day. He was notoriously a bastard to himself when editing his own manuscripts before submitting to his editor, oftentimes throwing away things that other writers might have kept. In this part of the draftin