Happy Medium

When do you edit a piece of fiction? By editing, I don’t mean the professional process that is part of publication. I mean your own self-editing, when you look over what you’ve written and try to make it better.

Many writers just pour out their words on paper and then go back and edit it later. Some agonize over every single word along the way. Both have their drawbacks. For the edit-it-later crowd, too many writers don’t get around to editing it, or bog down in details when they try to do it, or end up rewriting the whole thing (something I have done many times). For the agonizers, a very common result is that they write excruciatingly slowly, and have a hard time letting things go if the story goes in an unusual direction. Sometimes they can’t get past a certain word choice, and just sort of… stop.

There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere.

When my work is most successful, I find I do a combination of these two. For the most part, I start my stories on paper and then transfer them to the computer when they appear to be viable. In either case, I do some editing on the fly–mostly a matter of word choice. In other words, I’m editing my sentences, not my story. Then when the piece is finished, I give it a couple of weeks to go through the critique process with my pitifully small circle of readers, and for its immediacy to settle out of my mind. Then, reading through the critiques, I decide what I do and don’t agree with, and then usually critique the piece thoroughly myself. I go through and make changes. And then I stop! If you can’t ever stop editing, it’s just as bad as if you can’t start.

The next step after that, hopefully, is sending it off.

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