• Advice

How to tell when it's time to move beyond the editing stage

As anyone who’s ever sat through a 25-minute Best Man speech or read through a first draft of a novel will tell you, edits can be good. They keep projects on-track and objectives sharp – and without them, eyes start to roll and heads start to nod.

There IS, however, such a thing as over-editing: when the editing process takes over your entire workflow and becomes detrimental, instead of helpful. So how can you tell if you’re making smart, judicious cuts... or getting caught in an endless web of over-editing?

1. You’re going over deadline

If you find yourself getting caught in cycle after cycle of revision (while your clients fume about missed benchmarks), you’re almost certainly over-editing. You may have to chance sending an imperfect piece out into the world in order to make a deadline! THAT IS OKAY! Sometimes, the “perfect” must give way to the “prompt.”

Procrastination is also a classic sign of over-editing – even if it’s only in your mind. If you find yourself consistently delaying starting a project because you’re fretting about getting things perfect the first time ‘round, you’re really pre-editing. Fully engaging in the editing process BEFORE you really do the bulk of your work is really a prime example of over-editing: it hinders rather than helps progress.

2. Your work stays private

If you’re SURE that you will release that novel (or film, or painting) into the world, as soon as you get it jussssst right.... and if you’ve been SURE of that for over a year, you may need to risk exposure.

Freelance work is often, by its nature, somewhat self-contained. However, you don’t want to be the Emily Dickinson of the freelance world – amassing a huge body of work, only to be truly appreciated when your heirs discover your masterpieces.

Life is too short, and too many would-be poets and creators pass unnoticed into that great beyond. It’s totally okay to keep your work private for a while, especially if you’re in development... but if your masterpiece has been sitting in a drawer for a good long time, you may need to move beyond “editing” and into the “feedback” stage.

3. You find yourself consistently flip-flopping

You cut that paragraph – oop, now you put it back in. Wait, maybe it should get deleted again? You’ve been pacing your office for days, trying to decide; your rough draft contains a complicated notation systems of stars and checks and strike-outs that would make a professional code-breaker quake.

When we’re in editing mode, some wishy-washiness is natural – most cuts hurt, after all, and it’s normal to feel ambivalent about them. But if you really consistently can’t make up your mind after taking a break and gaining perspective, it’s time to seek an outside eye. Ask a colleague, friend, or supervisor to take a look.

Editing is often a necessary and laudable step in your process, but don’t dwell too long in that comfortable revision mode. If you match any of these descriptors, embrace your discomfort and send your project out in the world... your editing time is done!