can you over edit your manuscript?


Well, technically, that would be the end of this post; however, for the sake of the blog, I’ll elaborate. First, when I say editing, I don’t mean changing plotlines or major characters. When I talk about editing, I’m talking about editing the mechanics of the novel (grammar, spelling, etc.).

As I’m sure many of you do, I read literary agents’ blogs and tweets where they offer publication tips to writers. One of their biggest laments is writers who don’t spend enough time editing their manuscripts prior to submission. Apparently, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are all terribly important to literary agents and publishers. Amazing, but true.

I am not as clever as most folks, so I have to edit my novel in stages. The first edit focuses entirely on spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. The second time I read the manuscript is for plot and characterization. The third time is a combination of the two previous edits and to make sure poltergeists haven’t been tinkering with my manuscript when I wasn’t looking. (These annoying poltergeists went back into my chapter one night and changed a “bedside table” into a “beside table.” Fear them.)

To see how effective I had been in this endeavor, I sent my first chapter for a professional edit. Kelly asked in a comment to a previous post if I would share with you some of the edits and insights that I received.

Prior to sending this chapter out for a professional edit, I made sure I had implemented my critique group’s valuable suggestions, and I had edited this chapter multiple times on my own. By doing this, I was assured that my editor would have the cleanest possible manuscript to critique so I would receive more bang for my buck. It worked.

The first part of the edit consisted of a critique of the mechanical issues such as grammar and word usage while the second part concentrated on content.

Insofar as the mechanics of the writing

I wish I could enlighten you as to wonderful editing techniques that were imparted to me through this edit; however, the information I received was unique to my problem areas. Examples of this would include: lack of description, too many sentences beginning with “That was” or “There was,” and redundant information.

A good example of redundancy is this edit:

No, it doesn’t please me. Not at all, but he wouldn’t send the shaking trembling servant back to her with that communication message. She would have the old man beaten to death. for such a message.

A couple of times I used the word “and” which usually means an “addition” when “so,” which is indicative of a consequence would have been the appropriate choice:

Although it was only autumn, the northern winds had started to blow cold, and so he chose his heaviest clothing and his boots.

There were several places where minor re-wording really tightened the manuscript:

Far ahead, he glimpsed a woman with hair the color hue of sunlit autumn fields afire with sunlight, and he almost cried out Rachael’s name. The woman turned; she wasn’t Rachael, but merely a pale replica,. a A sparrow imitating a phoenix. He passed her without a second look, chiding himself for a fool.

Another re-wording suggestion I liked was:

The priest’s face reappeared suddenly. “Come along Don’t dawdle, Lucian., you’re wasting time.

Unnecessary words such as the ones I listed in my recent post, Self-editing Made Easy, –ier, Easier, were also eliminated throughout the chapter.

In terms of content, I don’t feel comfortable quoting my editor without his permission, but he did pick up on several issues that concerned me. He made some valuable comments regarding setting and also cautioned me against putting too much information in the first chapter.

I did go back and work on the setting. I also removed some extraneous information from the first chapter; however, I didn’t extract too much for now. I want to wait until the last chapter has been written, then I can go back and safely decide what information can be removed without hurting the plot.

He had very kind things to say about my characters and my use of figurative language. He also addressed my biggest concern when he said the plot and characters would hook the reader into reading the novel once they had completed the first chapter.

If you want to see the completed chapter one, it’s on my About My Novel page. If there are any errors there now, it is either from my own edits or the return of the poltergeists. I’ll leave the chapter there for a week or two, but as I move closer to submitting it, I will only be posting excerpts from the novel.

Do I feel like these edits have hurt my novel? Absolutely not. Every time I read it, I find less and less to change, and I feel more comfortable that I’m putting my best work forward. I want my novel to stand out in the crowd because it is well written and entertaining, not as another cautionary tale of how not to submit a manuscript.

How about you? Do you feel like you can over edit a manuscript? When do you say you have done all you can do?


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4 Responses to can you over edit your manuscript?

  1. lawrenceez says:

    Hi…yes, editing from another person usually always brings to the surface things the writer hasn’t noticed. I’ve often thought I’ve managed to perfect a chapter or sections, but often someone will point out something that needs addressing.

    I shall take a look at the chapter sometime.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Lawrence, I get a lot of good information from my critique group, but that final edit by a professional really gave me that extra little bit of confidence. When I have a day like yesterday where I’m feeling blah! why am I doing this to myself, I pull out that critique and read through it. It’s enough to give me hope! 😉

      You have a great weekend.

  2. Great post and a great website that I am enjoying reading. As for editing I spend HOURS reviewing what I have written and finding ways to improve it. As you say, it is incredible what those damn poltergeists get up to when you aren’t looking!
    As an aside, I am running a little competition over at my site. It is for flash fiction on any subject, but limited to 300 words. It would be fantastic if you could find time to enter. I hope to hear from you.
    Best wishes,

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for dropping in, Cy!

      I will try to come up with something for your competition, but I’m not very good at flash fiction. I’ll stop by your site, though, and get the information to pass along to others who pop in to see me! Some of them do excellent flash fiction. Alas! I have yet to master the noble short story. 😉


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