The question is, how many edits is too many? Is there a golden number? Can a writer edit a novel
ad infinitum, or is there a danger it will eventually spoil the whole thing?
The answer is as individual as the writer, but it’s all about balance. Every writer knows the importance of redrafting and editing and many worry about how many drafts they should go through before a story is ready for the world, but it’s about finding a balance that works for the individual.
Let’s look at the main problems of re-writing.
Lack of rewrites
On the whole, a lack of novel edits underscores a writer’s inefficiency and lack of experience because not even established writers can write a perfect story in the first draft – they may take several edits, and first time writers certainly won’t achieve acceptable standards under three edits.
Many writers don’t invest time in rewriting and redrafting prior to sending their work to agents or publishers and they don’t always realise that there is still a lot of work needed on their novel. That is one of the many reasons some MSS are rejected immediately without a second glance.
It’s surprising how many writers believe they can write a fantastic, publishable novel in no time at all, and with hardly any re-writing. If they can, they are a genius. And I’ve not yet met one.
Without a doubt, the first two drafts of any novel are unpublishable.
Main problems with too few edits:
- Potential problem areas – like plot flaws - haven’t been spotted.
- The story isn’t yet strong enough to be considered completed.
- The writer hasn’t noticed spelling and grammar errors.
- The writer hasn’t paid enough attention to the art of novel writing.
- The writer has rushed the whole thing.
- Overall, there is a higher chance the novel may be rejected because of all the above.
Too many rewrites
- Writing ad infinitum in the belief you can make it better – it ends up spoiling the story.
- The writer loses sight of the importance of the novel because of too many drafts.
- The novel loses strength after numerous re-writes and becomes weak.
- The writer is never satisfied with the result, so the self-perpetuating cycle continues – the curse of perfectionism.
- The writer become too close to the story to notice any errors.
- The story becomes stagnant beyond repair.
- Can I realistically improve the work further?
- Have I spoiled the story’s intrinsic core?
- Have I become too close to the whole thing that I can’t see the errors?
- Can I trust someone to give me thorough, positive feedback to help me establish points 1 and 2?
- Am I brave enough to send it out to publishers and agents?
- Can I make this the LAST draft? Do I really need to rewrite?
- Am I brave enough to accept defeat on this novel, learn from the process and move on?
- Can I work to a realistic threshold from now on?