The End of Editing

by Ed Davis on August 1, 2016

(At least for now)

Shortly after The World According to Garp won the National Book Award in 1980, I recall reading that John Irving was caught on-stage editing the published copy of his novel before rising to read from it. Amazing! Wasn’t it good enough by then? Shouldn’t he have let it go?

Now, many years later I understand that we—no one else— are the CEO’s of our work and that there simply is no end of editing until we die (then someone else takes over). And yet if writers are interested in moving on and not getting stuck in a writing rut, they need to call it quits at some point, right? So, when is that, exactly?

Maybe you should stop editing when

  1. You’ve made—or at least tried—all of the changes recommended by your beta readers. But before you quit editing, ask yourself if you let yourself off too easy. Oh, yes, you checked the box beside every single suggestion or criticism, but maybe you only responded to those suggestions that felt “right.” How about those suggestions toward which you felt neutral or those you actively resisted? There’s absolutely nothing to be lost by trying all suggestions; you can always return to the original. If you can check those boxes, then it probably is time to stop editing and submit.
  1. You find yourself unable to change any more words, phrases and sentences. If the manuscript has begun to concretize on this micro level, it could mean you should back off and quit tinkering on the macro level, too.
  1. The characters and story seem to be losing energy, maybe even interest, for you. Even though changes you’re contemplating but have not yet made seem logical, if making them significantly reduces your passion for the project, then maybe this is a good indication you should stop, reserving the right to revise if and only if a respected editor or publisher asks you to.
  1. After extensive editing, you’ve let it simmer a good long time—days, weeks, maybe even months—so that when you re-read it, it feels fresh. That’s the adjective one of my best editors labeled a manuscript of mine she eventually published, one for which I wrote six extra chapters twice before deciding the book was done. I should’ve quit while I was ahead, but I was a rookie. At least while I was spinning my wheels, the book was aging in the cask.
  1. You know it’s not complete, but you currently lack something essential to bring the piece to fruition. Possibly it’s craft; e.g., you simply must learn to use multiple points of view before continuing. But maybe it’s information you lack, and you need to do more research. While writing Sophie’s Choice, William Styron flew to Europe to visit the Nazi death camps before finishing the novel. But maybe you’re unable to give yourself permission to dig deep enough inside your unconscious for the rest of the story. You may, in fact, be, in the words of Lawrence Block, “washing garbage,” wasting your time editing superficial work requiring far greater depth. Mere editing may not help. Waiting, in this case, may yield greater rewards later on.

So whether you’ve revised and edited the piece for a week or a year, face it that you may be done—for now. Someone else may edit your words in the future. But since you have no control over that, relax, do the absolute best you can, let go and trust.

Addenda:  Publication

The Sycamore, a beautiful publication of Cincinnati’s Christ Cathedral, wants spiritual poems, this time on the topic “Loss,” for their fall issue. Deadline is August 31, 2016. Submit poems to editor Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer at  (The latest issue on Spirituality and the Arts contains my poem “Holy Motion.”) Check ‘em out at

My review of Donna Meredith’s new thoroughly researched and compelling eco-thriller Fraccidental Death has been published in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail at  With strong plot and characters, the novel presents a quite  balanced view of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing.









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