A while back, I talked about the separation between writing and editing. Writing is a process of accumulation, while editing is a process of curation. It is difficult and often inefficient to complete both of these tasks at the same time.
But how do we know when to stop writing and start editing? Is it okay to edit before we’re done with the full draft? When should editing start?
First, let’s look at the phases of editing.
Three Levels of Editing
When we say “editing,” we could mean a variety of things. For the purposes of this article, we’re talking about developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing.
- Developmental editing is big-picture stuff.
- Line editing is sentence style and order.
- Copy editing is grammar and punctuation.
Every piece of writing—be it a blog, short story, or novel—should go through all three of these stages. So, when do we start each?
When to Start Editing
For the first step of editing, you want to have a completed work AND have taken a break between writing and reviewing. That break might be anywhere from a few days for a project you’ve been working on quickly, or it could mean stepping away for weeks or months if it’s a project you’ve been working on for years. Take this time to forget your plot so you can come at it with fresh eyes.
During developmental editing, you will be rereading and making changes. I recommend doing a complete read-through first and only making notes on what to change, not actually changing it yet. Trust me, this will save you time and lots of rewriting your already rewritten scenes. Once you’ve gone through and commented, now you can start the editing phase of actually rewriting.
At this point, I’d be surprised if you didn’t need a break from your work. But you don’t always need one between developmental and line editing. Now that you know your plot is solid, you can go through and start looking at the words and sentence constructions you’ve been using and turn them into the words you really wanted to write, the ones true to your character and your author voice. Line editing should only start after developmental editing, though. You don’t want to line-edit something into a beautiful turn of phrase only to cut that scene later.
The final step in editing is to complete copy editing, which looks at grammar and punctuation. This third step of the editing process should truly come last. Only once you’ve reread and revised your text should you start trying to perfect it grammatically. Otherwise, like with rewriting too early, you might change or cut a section later, making your detailed copy edit there null and void.
Knowing when to stop editing is as important as knowing when to start it. Keep the editing stages in order, and don’t start one until you’ve finished the one before. It may be tempting to skip ahead. Don’t. Slow and methodical wins the day.
Jeanette the Writer is a freelance editor and writer based in Dallas, TX. When not at her computer, you can find her crafting, scuba diving, or posting pictures of her cats on Instagram. Visit JeanettetheWriter.com for more info and follow @JeanettetheWriter on Instagram and Facebook.