Is it Possible to Over-Edit?
“I edit my own stories to death. They eventually run and hide from me.”
– Jeanne Voelker
Last night I awoke from a disturbing dream, hot-flushed and restless (no, I’m not menopausal). In the dream I was frantically hacking at my manuscript; fiddling paragraphs, altering words, massacring characters. My story transformed into an unrecognisable product that had little in common with the original. At some point something must have clicked because I spent the end of the dream trying to restore it to its former glory. Clawing my way back, crippled with confusion – my story a disjointed muddle of nonsense. And all I could think was, “I’d been so close and now it’s ruined…”
We’re told we should edit until our eyes are bleary, our fingers blistered. Yet, I wonder, is it possible to over-edit? That desire to keep honing each sentence can be overpowering. It’s a relentless quest with no clear ending.
When is enough enough?
Mike Nappa (Founder of Nappa Literary Agency) claims the answer is simple:
“You write a book four times.”
When I first read this, I scoffed at the comment. Four times? Pah! I’m on at least my six hundred and twentieth draft!
He explains the process in four stages:
1. The Close-In Writing (the first draft)
2. The Close-in Edit (Edit all the way through from word one)
3. The Distant or Hand Edit (Draft an entire hard copy from hand)
4. The Oral Edit (Read revised hard copy out loud and note any phrasing that causes you to stumble)
Click here for the entire article.
“If you write your book four times,” Mr Nappa goes on to explain, “chances are very good that when you’re done it will be a finely crafted work of art.”
I’m not sure my manuscript could have been defined as ‘art’ after the fourth draft. It was more of a stem yet to sprout its leaves. Perhaps it was because it’s my first and I started as any amateur does, fumbling about like a newly hatched bird learning to feed. Naturally, we become quicker at the process with every manuscript attempted and I’ll dance naked around my living room the day I craft a masterpiece after only four drafts.
On a positive note, I could suppose my dream was a sign. A sign that my manuscript is ready. Maybe I need to put away that pen, accept that it’s as good as it can be and plop it in an envelope.
“I’ve reached that final moment of editing a book — the one where the text manifests as a living breathing person and starts slugging me in the face.”
— Richard Due
Have you ever edited a piece of writing to death?