Creative Writing Tip: DON’T go crazy editing one paragraph (or chunk of text)

1382050_book_lookToday’s piece of advice for writing a novel is one I learned the hard way. While editing, I am guilty as all get out of violating this nugget of wisdom time and again. Even after I’ve learned the value of it from experience, I still go against the rule way more than I should. But the times I do realize what I’m doing and check myself, things go much smoother when I edit.

So, what’s the tip?

DON’T continuously edit one paragraph or chunk of paragraphs for too long in one sitting.

What constitutes too long? It will vary a bit from person to person, but generally you’ll know you’re reaching that point:

  • If you find yourself having to reread the first sentences of the paragraph time and time again because you can’t keep them straight and they’re jumbling together
  • If you’re going back to reread the paragraph after every minor change, then making more minor changes, and then going to the beginning again, only to repeat the process ad nauseam
  • If you can’t decide whether or not the paragraph is a gem or utter slough because the cases for both are equally convincing
  • If the computer screen or page is starting to physically blur before your eyes
OOH blur. Look at the pretty colors!!!!

OOH blur. Look at the pretty colors!!!!

This has totally happened to me more times than I can count. And it’s such a waste of my time! I get nothing accomplished in sessions when I get stuck on one section like that. All I do is frustrate myself and start to doubt what the heck I’m doing.

If you find this happening to you, follow these instructions.

  1. Step away.
  2. Seriously. STEP AWAY.
  3. Ask yourself: is this section bugging me because really, it just doesn’t need to be here? Can I  cut it? Cut a part of it? (Sometimes that’s proven my best solution.)
  4. If YES, then cut.
  5. If NO, then wait at least twenty minutes or half an hour. Do something else productive. Then and only then return to the WIP.

I remember distinctly wasting about half an hour dealing with two paragraphs because I just didn’t like how they were worded. I debated changing things. Then I changed them. Then I decided I needed to change them back. I was just being picky. It was a late night editing session, which is rare for me. I was tired. I finally saved the doc and decided to return to it the next morning.


Refreshed, I opened the doc. I went to the problem paragraphs. I read them and realized they were fine and what the heck had I been thinking the night before causing myself anxiety over this non-issue? Seriously.

So please, do yourself a favor and give it a rest when you find yourself doing what I was doing. Your time management skills and your mental health will thank you!  🙂


15 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: DON’T go crazy editing one paragraph (or chunk of text)

  1. I do this all the time. It’s hard to make yourself step away, but just do it! Thanks for this great post!

    • You’re welcome, Megan! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m just as guilty of this as you are…. it’s the perfectionist in me. It is a constant battle during editing…. A big problem for me!

  2. Great post, Victoria! I hate it when that sort of thing happens to me. I’m trying to be more careful and aware of the time during my editing sessions now. But every so often I’ll discover that hours have passed and I’m still looking at the same page. It totally bites.

    Like you said, if you put the work away and come back to it later, you’re a lot more likely to see exactly what you need to do. Sometimes you’ll keep the text as is, sometimes you’ll just cut it all, and sometimes you need to make a simple, straightforward change.

  3. Pingback: Creative Writing Tip: DON’T go crazy editing one paragraph (or chunk of text) | Creative Writing with the Crimson League | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  4. Oh my gosh, yeah, that realization you talk about is the worst. I love how you break down the different options/resolutions you can come to after stepping away, as well…. I just love how writing is so fluid and so unique and so, well, creative…. there’s never any any-size-fits-all solution. It keeps it from ever, every getting boring! (That gives me a great idea for a next post to write, haha!!!)

  5. I think stepping away and coming back with a fresh perspective is always beneficial.

  6. It’s hard to resist the desire to re-word. I could read something, think it’s lame, and then spend rewriting when I could making genuine progress.

    When the screen begins to blur, the writer definitely needs a rest. XD

  7. A break is definitely better than going over one paragraph too many times! Of course, I always find the perfect words coming to me when I’m away from the computer!

  8. Pingback: Familiarity Breeds Contempt: What Do Writers Do When They’re Sick of Their Novel? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  9. Because I edit for other people, I find it very, no … extremely, no … excruciatingly hard to turn off, no … discontinue, no … step away from self-editing revisions as I write. (Can you tell?) Thanks for “permission” to cease and desist–until later!

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