Blinded by the words

As I near the end of my final pre-agent editing round, I fear I am only tinkering. Not long ago, one of my critique partners warned me to beware of editing “just to make it different, not better.” I think I’m at that point now.

Five fellow writers have read and critiqued this entire novel. I’ve made many positive changes based on their feedback. This final polish round was necessary, and as far as I’ve kept to minor edits, I feel confident that the changes are positive. But new ideas keep coming to me. I wonder if I should add this layer, or whether this could be the real reason he did that, or shouldn’t she be thinking about this here? Am I enhancing or confusing the plot?

The problem is, I’m blind to my own words now. I could put it away for a while, not look at it, but I’ve done that with individual sections (it’s written in three parts) and it made no difference. I can’t forget the story I’ve written.

So I add a few sentences … and then I take them out. I write a whole chapter showing a different level to this character’s conflict and then I decide it adds nothing. I make notes on where I need to change this bit of dialogue or the action in this scene to reflect this new aspect of the character’s personality and then decide that’s just silly.

I know I’m not the only one who fears over editing. Jennifer Neri’s recent post reflects a similar worry. I think it’s time for me to stop mucking about. A new virtual writer friend has volunteered to read this novel and give me feedback. I’m interested to see if any of the parts she advises me to cut are my recent twiddlings.

What about you? Do you ever feel you may be editing the life out of your work?

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31 thoughts on “Blinded by the words

  1. hmmm.. I felt this way with novel #1, and now I know I need to re-edit some of it, after it has been away for about 10 months. I do thinks it’s possible to over-edit, and I am certain that if I had kept editing that novel last year I would have damaged it. I didn’t have the tools then to bring it where I think I can now. Perhaps it was all about knowing something wasn’t quite right, but not knowing what.

    It is so hard to trust oneself at times.


    1. It is hard to trust yourself. Maybe it’s easier after you’ve published a novel or two. I hope so.

      You know, the pathetic thing is that, on most of these things, I don’t even think I sensed something wasn’t right. I think I was imagining what someone else might think.


  2. Wish I did feel like I was editing the life out of the story, but right now, I’m still pouring life into my story.

    Though, I know what you mean. I have edited short stories, then gone back to undo those changes. Jennifer is right, it’s hard to trust yourself, but sometimes your gut is right.


      1. Okay, I didn’t imagine the various perspectives of gut instinct 🙂

        I like “informed gut,” as you call it. And, I like Cynthia’s comment to stop when you find yourself undoing edits.

        I’ve also read (from several posts on writing/critique groups) the advice that when someone says something “doesn’t work,” you should listen. But, if they tell you how to fix it, you can ignore their feedback.

        I can’t wait until I have more personal experience to offer!


        1. Hmmm, pretty sure I didn’t listen the second part of that advice … at least not every time. But I think I’ve got it sorted out now. Informed gut is the way to go.


  3. I agree with Jennifer, when I felt I was editing the life out, I had to put it away for a few months.

    Great question in your response to Christi – initial gut or editing gut, or….!?


    1. But in agreement with what you said on Jennifer’s blog, I don’t want to put this away for a time again!

      Yeah, which gut? It’s no wonder writers are half crazy. 🙂


      1. I agree with what Jennifer said above and on her blog. You’re right, it’s really tough, but for me, it’s the only way I can get perspective sometimes.

        One thing that works for me in making decisions, never tried it with writing, but it just popped into my head, so thought I’d throw it out here — it’s the pro/con list idea. You could try writing what you think of change A vs change B. That has a way of ferreting out your “real” gut … whatever that is… 😉


        1. Well, like I said, I think I’ve gone beyond improving it now and I’m just changing things for no good reason. Hopefully, if something really does need changing (or added), this next critique will point that out. Then I’ll be doing the pro and con dance. 🙂


  4. I think I favour a hybrid – the informed gut. When I’m writing academic pieces I start with the story, move onto the technical (is it theoretically sound?), then tackle the grammatical. When that’s all done, I ask myself if I like the way it reads. Where are the power stops – the short sentences that pull readers up short and drive home a point? Can I make this section read with elegance and flow? Is there an emotional impact? Then I submit it and find a typo!
    I’ve read, edited, and re-read my short stories before submitting and still found osmeting I want to change afterwards. I suspect there’s no end to editing, you just have to balance close scrutiny against a fresh eye and then know when to quit.


  5. Definitely.

    I know I’m getting close to the end of the revision process when I’m mostly deleting. And when I find myself undoing edits, that is my signal to myself that it’s time to stop.


  6. I would love to add some wisdom to this discussion but I have to edit my word count down from 135,000 so I know I’m not done.
    If I had a finished piece I might have something to offer, but I’m still a rookie.
    In my opinion, you can do more damage than good if you tinker too much. Sorry, that’s all I got. 🙂


    1. I have had more the opposite problem, Dayner. I’m too stingy with my words and have to be told to add to the story. I think that’s why I worry that I’m leaving something out now. But I have a volunteer for another beta read, so we’ll see if more writing is suggested. Don’t apologize for your advice; I totally agree.


  7. Nope, no fear of that from me, but I hear this a lot in writing circles. Writers never “finish” a manuscript, they give up on it. It sounds like you’re there, and I’m very excited to see where your journey takes you next.

    My bigger fear is there was never any life in the story to edit out in the first place.


  8. I like the informed gut approach.

    And I also agree with Dayner that you can do damage by reworking something too much. I think we can get to a point where reworking and reworking just keeps us from putting our work Out There and, possibly, having it rejected.

    And, Linda, I beg to differ — you said writers are only HALF-crazy???


    1. Point taken on the crazy thing. 🙂 And yes, I do know you can rework something too much; I’ve done it in my artwork. I certainly think I’m too close to see what damage I may be doing now, so it’s best to let it go. Any further changes will only be done on the advice of others.


  9. I wrote a short story and I changed the opening line 200 times. It was submitted for a major short story writing competition in the country where I’m living. Even on the morning of the deadline, I was still changing the opening line.

    The story was shortlisted and the opening line I retained was the very first line I drafted.
    Yes sometimes you have stop editing .


    1. That would be going with your gut instinct, I think. I’ve reworked the opening paragraph of this novel too many times to count, and recently I submitted different versions to my critique group and one member picked my original as the best. Right now, my first paragraph is none of the versions I showed them.


  10. I’m currently listening to my gut. I made a resolution to start querying ten agents a month beginning Jan, but alas, that has not happened. Something told me to put it away, start a new novel, write some short stories — submit them — then come back to it. Sure it puts my resolution on hold, but it feels like the right thing to do, and right now, I’m listening to what feels right rather than what I planned. It’s hard, either way.


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