Crossing the Finish Line

You’ve typed the last sentence, added the last end punctuation. You sit back with a satisfied sigh and hit save. It’s finished…finally.

Isn’t it?

Not quite.

The editing process is probably the most arduous and time-consuming part of the craft of writing.  And indeed, as we all know, he who refuses to edit is a fool. But there’s a funny thing about editing. It’s like a singularity — a black hole. Once you get sucked in, you may never come out again…or, if you do emerge, it may be in a totally different place in writerly space/time. So how do you balance the necessity of editing with the dangers of becoming consumed by it? How do you know when you’re finished…really and truly finished?

Part of this depends on where you are publishing. If you write for a magazine or have an editor at a publishing house, then you can be assured that whatever you send will not be exactly what is printed. Editors will tweak.  They can’t help themselves. (I know — I was one.) With that understanding, your job as a writer is to send them something that meets the following basic criteria:

  1. It has NO grammatical mistakes…at all.  Zero.
  2. It fits within the parameters of the assignment.  Don’t submit a 2,000 word piece for a 500-word column.  Or a 750 page novel to an imprint that only publishes 300-400 page manuscripts.  Your editor does not love you that much.  I promise.
  3. It makes sense.  Your plot lines are logical, your characters consistent, your timeline flawless.

But what if you plan to self-publish?  How do you know when enough is enough?

In situations like these, a writers’ critique group or good friend can be invaluable. (No.  Your dog does not count.  He must be able to read for himself.)  Make sure you’ve met the three basic criteria above and then submit it to the group or give it to your friend for a read-through.  When we have lived within a story’s world for months (years?), we lack perspective.  We know our characters inside and out.  We know the plot so well that we mentally fill in any gaps…sometimes neglecting to fill them in on the page as well.  Your critique group can spot them and you can adjust before any of your readers suffers death by narrative fissure.  Once you’ve made the suggested corrections, do another read-through yourself.  If you still have any friends left after the first go-round, buy them a latte and ask them to read it again.  Make the final changes and consider yourself done.

Another option worth considering is to hire a freelance editor to go through your work with a fine-tooth comb.  This is especially worth investigating if you aren’t confident enough in your grammatical prowess to handle step #1 on your own.  Freelance editors can do anything from a simple proofreading for grammatical errors to full-blown editing (suggesting storyline adjustments, content changes, etc.) and everything in between.  The drawback?  You need cash to hire one.  (They don’t work for lattes.)  And the larger the project and more extensive your needs, the higher the price.  But it could pay big dividends if your brilliantly polished piece lands a solid contract.

There you have it.  It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.  Editing is necessary and should be undertaken with care, but it should not become all-consuming.  So take heart, writers, and do not fear the editing process!  Hold your heads high and cross that finish line with confidence!

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