Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as over-editing

Picture of CosmosThe very first book I ever wrote was called (among other things) The Iron Admiral. I wanted to write a space opera with sex; not erotica, science fiction but with heart. So I did. To start with it wasn’t so very good. No writer’s first efforts are, I don’t think. In my case, the writing was flowery with many words other than ‘said’, much telling and not showing… the usual culprits.

But I went and learnt the craft and I polished and polished and polished. Eventually, I was happy with my work and propositioned literary agents and a few publishers without success. I got desperate and even self-published for Kindle. But then, an agent took an interest. I pulled the book off Amazon and listened to her advice. Rewrite, she said. She pointed out some plot weaknesses and suggested I bring the leading man in earlier. This was all good and I was grateful. But I’d written two books, one following on from the other. I’d been told that in a romance, there has to be a happy ending, nuptials if not confetti. Really, that meant I had to bring the two books together into one. Both of them were 100,00 words. Each.

I chopped and I clicked and I hacked and I snipped. At last, the book was down to 112,000.

But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t send the book back to Ms Agent, telling myself I’d wait until after Christmas. Then I saw an opportunity in a web group I belong to called Savvy Authors. You can join for free and it has some nifty opportunities for any starting writer. For some little while the group advertised the chance to do an editing workshop with a group of six authors, in conjunction with a living, breathing editor. After a lot of navel-gazing and head-scratching, I decided it might help to give my masterpiece a final polish.

After two exercises in the workshop, I was pretty sure I’d made a horrible mistake; after three, I was certain. I’d edited the heart out of my first book. The theme – of betrayal and broken trust – had disappeared in a flurry of jettisoned scenes. I’d cut for length, not for substance. Oh, it still read all right; but this book was supposed to be based on a tag line like ‘anything can be true – from a certain point of view’. (Oh, hey, I like that. *beams*)

The other mistake I’d made was to cut out scenes which the story ‘didn’t need’. One such example was the legend of the love lilies which Saahren has delivered to Allysha. In my edits I took the flowers out altogether, but I put them back in the final version. People loved it because the flowers revealed character and caring, a romantically naive man trying to win his lady in one of the few ways he knows. But let’s face it, the story would have stood without them. It isn’t the only example.

Mind you, many of the changes I’d made were for the better. The story moves faster, with less exposition and more action. But it had lost its heart. So I split back to two books. Both are a little shorter, more like 80,000 than 100,000. But I’m not sure I can call it ‘romance’ any more because the final ‘happy ever after’ isn’t until the end of book 2. I’m not sure I care, though. The most important thing is I’ve learned a valuable lesson; to use a cliché, ‘to thine own self be true’. Write your own story and stick to your guns. I don’t mean ignore advice; Ms Agent’s advice was valuable, but I really don’t think she would have found my MS worthy if I had sent it. I didn’t, so why should she?

By the way, the two books are published. They are The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and The Iron Admiral: Deception. You’ll find them both here.

18 thoughts on “Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as over-editing

  1. Pingback: Five writing myths – and why they’re crap | Greta van der Rol

  2. Gae-Lynn Woods

    Awesome post, Greta. I’m editing my second book now and worrying over word count, when really I should be focused on saving those scenes that move the story forward, and tossing the rest. Very timely, and much appreciated!

  3. Richard Leonard

    Very interesting given that I’m part way in to The Iron Admiral. I don’t mind a glimpse behind the scenes sometimes but almost thought I’d run into a spoiler!
    Thanks. 🙂

  4. Paul Trembling

    Getting the balance is difficult, sometimes. There’s always more editing you can do, and always something else you can cut! And there’ll usually be someone out there who thinks you should cut it! In my Authonomy days, I had some people advise me to cut the entire prologue, for starters! On the other hand, I was also told by someone that it was one of the best openings they’d ever read. In the end it was my book and my call, and I went with what I liked. (The prologue stayed in).

    1. Greta van der Rol

      Everyone has advice. I don’t like prologues, myself. And yet I use a prologue in my historical novel “To Die a Dry Death”. Some liked it, some hated it. But I had my reasons and when people had read the WHOLE book, they could see why it was necessary. That was one of the real problems with Auth. People so often only read 1-3 chapters.

  5. MonaKarel

    I’m doing my own brought up from the catacombs edit, part of which calls for reading the entire book in one sitting, without a red pencil in sight. Mind you I wrote this a long time ago, before all the workshops and forums and the like. There are serious point of view issues, especially in the beginning. But when I got to the meat of the book I realized…this is a pretty darned good story.
    The one piece of advice I’m finding valuable is to identify the theme and tag line of the story, and edit with that in mind. As long as a scene speaks to one of those issues, however remotely, I think twice before cutting it. The flowers were an important touch in Iron Admiral, and IMO critical to character development. Saahren was so shy about his feelings, this was one way he could express himself without coming right out and admitting he was a goner from day one. Thus are the mighty fallen

  6. Greta van der Rol

    Reblogged this on Greta van der Rol and commented:

    I’m in the middle of editing a new book and my experience with editing The Iron Admiral came to mind. I learned some valuable lessons then and I think it’s worth repeating them. If you have any views, I’d love to know your experience.

  7. Pingback: Murder your darlings? Maybe… « Greta van der Rol

  8. George Allwynn

    Thank you for sharing this story = I followed your link from over at Deb Riley’s face book. You see, I have this problem — a beautiful voice/style that was murdered because of some really bad self-editing classes I took. It’s been over 15 months now, and I finally am starting to realize this is crazy. Once again, thanks for sharing – I don’t feel so all alone anymore…

  9. Reb

    Thanks for putting this in words. It makes me think maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe there is hope…somewhere down the road, when I recover my drive and strength. Maybe I can fix it. Hope springs eternal.

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