Well, before you think I’m a pro at offering advice on how much to edit, let me make a quick confession.
I, too, have been guilty of overediting my writing on more counts than I can remember. And knowing when to stop editing and mark a task DONE has always made me struggle.
Yet, it is this struggle that has pushed me to develop a system that helps me balance the time I spend on writing vs editing my work.
First things, first.
WHAT IS EDITING, AND WHY DO WE OVER-EDIT?
According to the Oxford Dictionary,
“To edit (something) is to prepare a piece of writing, a book, etc., to be published by correcting the mistakes, making improvements to it, etc.”
So editing is primarily improving something to make it better than its current state. Sounds simple enough, but what makes it a struggle?
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION
As a writer, we want to deliver our absolute best work. And sometimes, aiming for perfection puts us on a cat-and-mouse chase.
The more we write, the more we edit, and it’s hard to figure out when a piece we’re working on is good enough to mark as complete.
You see, we think we can make it better than what it is if only we have an hour or two more to perfect it. And it is this tendency to seek perfection that prolongs the doneness of a writing job.
WRITING WITHOUT A PLAN
When we jump to writing without a plan, we automatically prolong the editing process.
With no notes to guide you, it’s easy to have your thoughts all over the place which means, more time spent on rewriting, adding new points, organising, and correcting the flow of the content later.
UNDER EDITING IS A THING TOO
Just as over-editing can slow down your progress, under-editing your work can jeopardise the quality of your work and isn’t good either.
Don’t we all know how frustrating it is to publish a post only to discover an embarrassing typo that potentially changes the meaning of your entire post?
And not to forget the perils of submitting an unfinished piece that seems sub-standard due to under-editing.
HOW TO BALANCE YOUR TIME BETWEEN WRITING AND EDITING?
Are you wondering how much editing should you do and how to stop over-editing your writing? Is perfectionism eating into your schedule?
Knowing the exact time to put aside for editing and writing isn’t easy or very well defined. But it is something that you will instinctively know as you become a more experienced writer and work on varied projects.
For now, let’s look at 5 + 1 tips to ensure you’re doing just enough editing, not less and not more.
1. PLAN BEFORE YOU WRITE
One of the easiest ways to reduce editing time is to start right. And that means advance planning. Whenever possible, have a content wireframe in place for your writing.
And for tasks that don’t support wireframes, give yourself good ten-fifteen minutes to work out the flow and the most important points you’d like to cover in your write-up.
Jot down the points as they come to your mind, and voila! You now have an actionable plan to support your writing.
The more you plan, the less editing you’ll have to do later.
2. USE GOOD WRITING TOOLS
You don’t have to do all the editing at the end because it may backfire. For one, it may overwhelm you, and two, you run the risk of obsessing over what needs to be changed and whatnot.
So instead, seek help from the best editing, grammar check and proofreading tools available online to integrate basic editing as you write, seamlessly.
And they also teach you a thing or two about getting the tone of your content correctly.
3. READ ALOUD
One habit that works like magic when you’re deep in the writing process is reading aloud what you write.
Hearing the words as if you’re speaking to them puts everything in perspective. And this is especially helpful when you’re aiming for a smooth conversational tone.
So, as you finish each paragraph, read it aloud to know if the sentence structure and flow are correct. Now make tweaks if you notice something amiss.
Reading aloud also expands the chain of thoughts and lets you think clearly about what should come next. Of course, it also helps to stop over editing.
4. KNOW THAT DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT
While the idea of perfection seems attractive and achievable, who’s to say what’s perfect and what’s not?
Your second draft was perfect enough, but you were too busy editing to realise it. So, you edited it some more and a little more. And a little bit more until you over-edited and made it less than perfect.
You see, to balance writing and editing, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and at some point. A skill that comes with practice, foresight, planning and loads of writing!
Once you’ve had a good dose of all these, you will no longer struggle to know when your writing is ready to publish.
Hitting the submit button will get easier, and faster and feel instinctively right!
5. REVISIT YOUR CONTENT THE NEXT DAY
Here’s my favourite tip that I recommend to those for whom over-editing is a huge problem.
Say you have a deadline at 3 pm on a Tuesday. Finish the task latest by Monday evening and put it aside.
Come Tuesday morning, and it’s time to open the document and give it a read. The chances are high that the edits that you make to your document in the next 20 minutes will elevate the quality of your content and make your writing (near) PERFECT!
Now hit that submit button with confidence, and you have one more task on your list done and dusted!
When you take a break from your writing and revisit your work with a fresh pair of eyes and ears, that’s when you do your best edits.
PRO-TIP: WORK CLOSER TO THE DEADLINE
Now it’s time for my pro tip on how to edit just enough and deliver your writing projects on time.
Here’s the thing.
Often, having the luxury of time gives you a free hand to obsess over your writing. And edit more than necessary.
The next time you have a delivery date coming up, start writing close to the deadline.
You will be surprised at how working under the pressure of a deadline looming over your head automatically makes you more decisive about what needs editing and what’s exactly right. And control the urge to perfect it.
Of course, you’ll also have to work fast and distraction-free, so you don’t miss the deadline and don’t deliver an under-edited piece.
As a writer, you’re the best judge of whether a write-up needs more editing. Though it may seem challenging to detach from a piece you’re writing, completing it will be the best feeling in the world. So, work on developing a system of writing and editing that works for you. And you’ll never have to submit unfinished work or go on editing what is already perfect!
What about you? Do you struggle to mark a task as done and hit that submit button? Do try out my pro tip on how to stop over editing and let me know if it worked for you in the comments section below.
First Published: Aug 2021; Last Updated: March 11, 2023