When to STOP editing

By guest blogger Estrella Azul

THERE WAS THIS post that showed up in my Twitter feed one night last week as I was about to go to bed. It was so timely, I just had to read it then and there. As soon as I finished reading, I had to type out a few thoughts. Now, I have to share.

I somehow managed to lose the link and can’t for the life of me find it again. But the main idea was: at some point you just have to stop editing. Set a deadline and keep it, hit Save, and then send in your work and don’t look back.

I think that’s such a good idea. Slightly tough to keep to, but a great idea nonetheless.

Just two days before reading that blog post, I had a piece to turn in that was driving me nuts.

I love writing, don’t get me wrong, but you have no idea how draining it was to finish my article. In the past few weeks I barely had time to breathe I was so busy. I felt like I was being torn in 100 different directions and it’s frustrating when I can’t concentrate on just writing. I like being able to write everything as it flows and then go back later to proofread—and, if need be, to include more info, photos, etc.

You know, minor editing.

However, I had written this particular piece a few sentences at a time every now and then when I had a couple of spare minutes—or before I could forget as soon as I remembered something of note.

I hate writing like that.

It has also been frustrating to have one day (self-assigned deadline because I couldn’t take it anymore) to go through it all and make it all seem like the piece flowed from the very beginning.

At one point as I started re-reading for the nth time and still figured it needs work, it hit me: I really needed to stop obsessing over it, stop tweaking it. So I just stopped and sent it in without thinking about it for a second longer.

Results? The editor emailed back in less than an hour telling me: “I love your article!”

When I told her about my editing issues, she replied: “It would be frustrating to write in such an occasional fashion, instead of feeling like you’re in the flow. I’m impressed that you turned in such a flowing, conversational piece of writing, complete with sprinklings of history and other interesting details.”

Wondering which piece I’m talking about? My Three Most Favorite Attractions in Paris actually. And judging by the lovely comments you’ve left, the editor was right (Thank you so much, Milli!); I did manage to turn in a good piece of writing. I was just too close to it (and too exhausted) to notice that myself.

I completely agree with the approach I read in that blog post—set a deadline and stop then and there. Don’t wait until you have to alternate between pulling your hair and thumping your head against the desk.



As I saw it, there was also another issue here. When she submitted this guest post, I asked Estrella if she remembered the times I had urged her not to drive herself crazy trying to edit her stories for Milliver’s Travels, but instead to show me the piece and let me decide what else was needed. She said she *had* remembered me saying that—but it was her perfectionist streak that caused her to go through this routine with the editing stress. She has agreed to let me use her as one of my examples for a blog post I plan to write in the near future, to be entitled Writers and the Fine Art of Getting Help. Thanks, Estrella! ~ Milli


Estrella AzulEstrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. Her creative writing has been published or is awaiting publication in online magazines including Vox Poetica, Six Sentences, Flashes in the Dark, Soft Whispers and in both the print and e-book version of Best of Friday Flash – Volume One.

To read her travel articles, visit Estrella’s staff writer index of articles at Milliver’s Travels or to read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©.

32 Responses to When to STOP editing
  1. Jenn M
    August 9, 2011 | 2:38 AM

    Oh, this is SOOOOOOO me! But, as Milli can tell you, I self-edit AS I am WRITING my piece! It is very self-destructive and distracting from writing the piece itself! Every once in a while I’ll write something strictly stream-of-consciousness, and that’s when I actually email the piece to people I love (MILLI, among the choicest few). And, you know what, my stream-of-consciousness pieces are the ones people love most–more than the ones I’ve labored over for days, weeks, or even months!

    Go figure!


    • Estrella Azul
      August 9, 2011 | 10:09 AM

      So glad you shared this, Jenn. I also self-edit as I’m writing, but am pretty good at stopping that way. For me, the problem is when I can’t write something in one sitting… so when I go back to it, it feels all wrong and I end up over-editing.
      Milli is a wonderful editor, and I love her so much for that (and not only)!

      Also, I know exactly what you mean about stream-of-consciousness posts being among the best received ones – that’s how it is with my own posts as well. That’s why I try to write things in one sitting 🙂

  2. Patti Stafford
    Twitter: pattistafford
    August 9, 2011 | 8:02 AM

    Great post! Yes, sometimes good enough really is good enough. If we always waited for the perfect flow, I fear we might be waiting for a very long time. It’s kind of like waiting for the perfect time to start something. The perfect time never arrives. It’s also like “getting ready to get ready.”

    Sometimes you just have to go with what you have. I love to go with the flow and I’m a big advocate for that mentality, but sometimes the flow can be sludgy. Those are the times when good enough is good enough.

    @Jenn – I can completely relate to that. What you call “stream of consciousness” I generally refer to as “straight out of my head.” There’s been several things I’ve written (and posted) and given the warning, “Okay, this is straight out of my head, no edits, just cringe and keep reading.”

    The funny thing is, I get the most responses from those writings.

    And, to stop that “edit as you write” thing, I’ve learned to write everything in Notepad; no squiggly lines to disrupt the train of thought. 🙂

    I’ve been at this writing thing for a long time. I’m still waiting to write that perfect piece. You know, the one where the reader sits there with their mouth open, thinking how brilliant I am. It hasn’t happened yet—or perhaps it has and they’re still sitting there with their mouth open and can’t respond. LOL

    Again, great post, Estrella. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and struggles.


    • Estrella Azul
      August 9, 2011 | 10:26 AM

      Thank you for your comment, Patti!
      You’re right, it’s exactly like waiting for “the perfect time”, and your “getting ready to get ready” made me smile as I was getting ready to get ready to send in my Paris piece while editing it so much.

      I also noticed how the straight out of your head posts, like I just said to Jenn, tend to be received best by our readers, and so is the case with more personal posts. When ever I thought a post was “too personal to share” or “probably unimportant to anyone but myself” those are the posts which generate the most discussion.

      Oh, and about that “perfect piece”, I’m sure the readers are still sitting there with their mouth open and can’t respond!

  3. Ann
    August 9, 2011 | 8:28 AM

    Estrella – Your article is an epiphany! I read your piece on Paris and you would have NEVER known!

    I’m not an over-editor (so far). Mainly I think because I am a food blogger and I post short blurbs about what is in a recipe. If the recipe works and my instructions are clear….I have my happy face on!

    However, there are times when I agonize over the instructions – I want them as clear as possible! I will think of you next time that happens…

    This is a great article and very useful in the blogosphere….Bravo!

    • Estrella Azul
      August 9, 2011 | 10:32 AM

      Ann, thank you, that is the best compliment!

      It’s funny how you say you sometimes agonize over the instructions, because I’m the same way. I always have to ask someone to read my craft tutorial posts and tell me if everything’s clear.
      There’s always something… to distract us from simply sending a piece in/posting/finishing the editing part, right? 🙂

  4. Fear of Writing
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    August 9, 2011 | 9:11 AM

    Before I wrote my book, I was a self-editor like Jenn M, barely able to progress with a paragraph because I hated everything I wrote and tried to fix it as it came out of the pen. I love your post because you’re telling it from the trenches and just about any writer who comes here will be able to relate to your feelings. We need this message repeatedly until it sinks into the deepest layers where we can come into contact with our real self-belief.

    Thank you for submitting this. I love your initiative in writing this and then sending it to me. 🙂

    ~ Milli

    • Estrella Azul
      August 9, 2011 | 10:03 AM

      Thank You, Milli, for liking the article so much as to publish it. I think we need to come to this realization on our own, whether after our heads hurt too much and we finally send in our piece or as we read an article on the subject. You’re right, we need to read this message repeatedly!
      Hope everyone who drops by will enjoy this and think of it next time they can’t stop editing.

  5. Janel
    August 9, 2011 | 2:32 PM

    I can definitely relate to this! I tend to edit pieces to within an inch of their life, if I don’t remember the sage advice to stop and submit. I’m taking a break from formatting one of those pesky “trouble” stories that I’ve decided to send out today. No more editing and procrastinating allowed!! 🙂

    • Estrella Azul
      August 10, 2011 | 10:12 AM

      I recall you telling me this, hope this article inspired you enough to really stop editing that story and sent it in! 🙂

  6. Julia
    Twitter: wordsxo
    August 9, 2011 | 4:47 PM

    I’m not a fan of the sentence-by-sentence approach either, but sometimes that’s all the time I can eke out for some writing! I do agree that eventually “done is better than perfect.” And it’s time to send it and move on. As for which blog pieces are well received (as discussed by a previous commenter), I honestly can’t tell at all which will and won’t be well received…. except that the common thread for well received ones seems to be something that writers can universally relate to, like the piece Milli wrote about “being a comfy writer,” or the one I wrote about feeling like an impostor. This is a good post that helps remind me that this also is a universal truth…. making time for writing!

    • Estrella Azul
      August 10, 2011 | 10:18 AM

      I know a few people who are totally okay with writing a couple of sentences at a time and actually prefer it that way. And of course I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, if that’s how one rolls, that’s fine. I’m just bad at editing pieces I end up writing like that 🙂 Currently I’m working on a tips post, and that will be no problem to edit as it won’t need to be as flow-y as this lengthy enough Paris article was.

      As for well received posts, it’s probably a tie, I just recall the posts I’m attached to more which are the ones I never suspect would be so popular.

  7. John Wiswell
    August 10, 2011 | 10:03 AM

    I can only imagine how stifling it must feel to write sentence-by-sentence. I do line-edit and obsess over certain passages that feel weak. Often I’ll return to them at the end of the day, or the end of the week, and give them a fresh look. I’m decisive at those points about cutting or fixing prose.

    I moderate my editing processes by breaking them into periods. There’s the composition period, then the Draft-2 revision period, and probably a Draft-3 unless everything clicked sooner. But by Draft-3 I can typically be pragmatic in my calls, thanks to ensuring I take time away to clear my mind of most biases, and conversely due to familiarity with the text.

    • Estrella Azul
      August 10, 2011 | 10:25 AM

      That’s a good process, John, I also usually have only the composition period and a Draft-2 revision period. Anything that somehow doesn’t get done in that time is something that will probably bug me to no end before I finally stop and hit “publish” or “send” 🙂
      Also, that’s good advice, to leave some time between edits and clear your head – you get more done when you return.

  8. Pj Kaiser
    August 10, 2011 | 12:28 PM

    Good post, Estrella – I’m in the midst of a massive editing project. I find that for some pieces, you’re absolutely right – I’m starting to obsess over the details and at a certain point I just have to say “stop.” For others, though, I find that I’m overediting the details because there’s something missing in the overall flow of the story. In that case, if I can’t recognize the flaw, I need to put it aside and look at it again with fresh eyes later.

    • Estrella Azul
      August 10, 2011 | 8:27 PM

      PJ, thank you!
      You’re right, I also think it’s always better to look at it again with fresh eyes, and of course it very much depends from project to project.
      When it’s a short enough piece and you have an editor willing to look at it, that’s when it’s better to just quit while you’re ahead and send it in before you edit it to death 😉

  9. Taryn
    Twitter: tarynblake71
    August 10, 2011 | 3:17 PM

    Great advice! I’m very guilty of obsessing a piece to death.

    • Estrella Azul
      August 10, 2011 | 8:23 PM

      Thanks! Hope this post helped you detach from editing further 🙂

  10. j
    August 15, 2011 | 8:21 PM

    I think about this one all the time and I never feel I have the answer. I think PJ is right though, sometimes you have to walk away, not necessarily hitting “send” but not looking for a while.

    Only occasionally do I feel certain, yes, this piece is DONE. The rest of the time, I always see ways I could maybe make it better. In fact, I sometimes have to not read my published pieces because I’m not immune to the impulse even then to edit myself.

    Certainly we can all agree that when the piece is already published, it’s time to let go. 😉

    • Estrella Azul
      August 16, 2011 | 11:59 AM

      Oh yes, once it’s published, we should let go.
      Now… having said that, I’d also be perfectly capable of starting to edit something that’s already posted – luckily I can’t exactly do that when the piece isn’t on my blog 😉

  11. Lois
    August 18, 2011 | 3:23 PM

    I’d be doing good if I could even start the editing process. LOL

    Thanks for posting such an eye-opening article!


    • Estrella Azul
      August 19, 2011 | 4:51 AM

      Glad you found the article eye-opening, Lois. Sometimes starting the editing process can be just as nerve racking as putting a stop to editing (I have a flash that needs editing since February even though I know exactly what I need to do to make it better…)
      Let’s both start editing, what do you say? 🙂

  12. Lois
    August 19, 2011 | 10:01 AM

    My problem is that I don’t know what to look for…besides the usual typos, misspellings, and such. But yeah, I’m game. 🙂

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      August 19, 2011 | 12:29 PM

      Hi Lois 🙂

      Not sure you could still locate this, but back when Patti’s writer’s forum first started up I did a rewriting analysis on the story that you wrote using the FoW prompt “Play Big.” If you work with that as practice it will get you into the swing of things in a friendly manner, without having to read dry books of theory on how to edit and revise. Just getting into the swing of something can have a magical way of revealing what you need to do. (Especially if you’re simply being blocked by the belief that you won’t be good at it.)

      You might be able to find that post in the forum by searching with the term “jazz band.”

      Good luck with it! Come back here later and let us know how you go.

      ~ Milli

      • Fear of Writing
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        August 19, 2011 | 12:30 PM

        Lois – I just remembered. It wasn’t for Play Big. It was for a story you wrote about a boy who was having problems at school. Sorry I can’t remember more details. But hopefully that will be enough of a clue.

        • Lois
          August 19, 2011 | 4:43 PM

          I remember! It was for A Boy Misplaced, about my character, Jason Corbet. 🙂 I’m not sure if it’s there anymore, but I printed it out at one point. I hope I still have it if the forum doesn’t!

          Thanks for the reminder, Milli! 😀

          • Fear of Writing
            Twitter: fearofwriting
            August 19, 2011 | 4:45 PM

            Terrific, Lois. That title sounds like exactly what I remember of the storyline. Hope you can find it!

    • Estrella Azul
      August 20, 2011 | 5:10 AM

      I think Milli said it best.
      That’s how I usually learn more about editing – by checking the differences between my original pieces and then the ones actual editors have edited for me.
      I’m especially happy when at first glance I don’t even see a difference, that’s always a great boost of confidence!

      • Lois
        August 20, 2011 | 1:32 PM

        I can see how that would be. 🙂


  13. Lois
    August 19, 2011 | 4:47 PM

    Thanks, Milli. 🙂

  14. Tracie Keith
    December 8, 2011 | 10:31 AM

    I’m not a fan of the sentence-by-sentence approach either, but sometimes that’s all the time I can eke out for some writing! There’s always something… to distract us from simply sending a piece in/posting/finishing the editing part, right?

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