Editing: Where do you draw the line?

ETA: I was nearly finished with this blog post when the Paris terrorist attack happened. Since that awful day, I’ve struggled to make sense of that senseless act. I contemplated deleting this post to write instead about that day, what it means…

I’ve decided to go ahead with this post. Writing is the thing that keeps me grounded, and as I work my way through the process of editing my novel–do that work–I’m allowing myself the time to work through and sort out those other things. I need time to figure out how I feel about what happened. About this world we live in.

In truth, I welcome the respite. Perhaps you do, too.


Way back when, in a different life, I studied graphic art (I may have mentioned that once or twice before 🙂 ). One of my projects featured an elm leaf. I wanted to somehow capture the muted colors of autumn whilst drawing attention to the simple line of the leaf’s middle vein.

Following is a photograph of my original work of art: the elm leaf positioned against a background of dusky green and muted purple, those colors divided by the thinnest verticality of pale green: my attempt to pay homage to nature’s perfect and beautiful simplicity.

But everything can be changed, right?

I’ve been thinking about that question lately as it relates to my writing; specifically, the short (51K) novel that I’ve been editing and revising for the better part of a month now. The more I edit, the more I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In my quest to make my novel better, am I losing the essence of the story; tweaking its best qualities until nothing is recognizable, or nothing of value remains?

Today, as I happened to be looking through old artwork, I came across my little elm leaf project. I looked at it for a long time and found myself second-guessing my choices. Maybe I should have chosen more vibrant colors for the thing. Maybe the original wasn’t interesting enough.

Maybe, if I change it. . .

Through the magic of virtual editing, I was able to do just that: tweak texture and color, soften and sharpen and why not? Art is ripe for change, and that goes for writing as well as the visual arts.

But how much is too much? Over-edit, and you run the risk of losing the original, sullying its purity. Different isn’t always better, to wit: I brightened the colors, but lost the muted feel of the original, and lost the significance of that pale, thin line.
Leaf orig-page-001

I messed with texture to the point of reducing nature’s delicacy to a garish graphic image.

Leaf 1-page-001

I blurred echoed lines right out of existence.

Leaf 2-page-001

Mess with something long enough, your original is lost in translation.

Leaf 3 sketchy-page-001

No doubt there is an audience for one of the above tweaked versions. And yes, I can and do appreciate the merits of each.

But my original vision–my purpose–was reflected in that original work of art. The simplicity of line. The understated beauty of nature’s own design. In my mind, I had already accomplished what I’d set out to do. But in an effort to make a good thing better, I lost what I had.

Leaf orig sharp-page-001

In writing, as in art, one needs to recognize when to draw the line.



9 thoughts on “Editing: Where do you draw the line?

    • Wait, I’m picking a scab…


      Of course, you’re right. There comes a time where we need to say, STOP RIGHT NOW. Which means, it’s time to share what you have with the powers that be, deal with all that subjective stuff out of our control. . .

      Which may mean that continually editing is actually a delaying mechanism, as opposed to an attempt to make a so-so thing good, or a good thing better.

      No, not ‘may be.’

      Thanks for the two cents, mrs f. Always a pleasure.

      xo kk


      • You’re right. Too much revision can destroy the original. I think that’s because, like your elm leaf project, we create in the moment – with a heart sense. Revision is more analytical and more head than heart. Good luck with your revisions. It’s no picnic!


        • In the moment — with a heart sense. How lovely is that?

          And true, Linnea. Sometimes, the finest line separates revision and destruction. I’m walking that line right now and you’re right, it’s no picnic.

          Thank you for weighing in. Always nice to hear from you, Linnea.

          ❤ kk


  1. I do like your little vertical line; I think it does what it’s supposed to!

    I have an oft-rejected short story (several, really), the only one that’s ever received a revise and resend request, which I did so with what I thought was serious thoughtfulness. It got rejected anyway (it’s gotten some personals). Thinking on it, though, I wonder if I made too many revisions, and made my little short story into something that, in its current state, should be bigger (novella big? novel big? who the hell knows at this point) Or if I added too much fat that needs to be trimmed.

    I think I’m going to try the trim and see how that goes ^^


    • Sometimes it’s good to step back, or away, for a bit. Truly, I find that sometimes I’m so immersed in the editing process that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Or I embellish so much that my original story is unrecognizable. Bigger isn’t always better, and that’s what I’m trying to come to grips with as I tackle that 51K -word novel of mine.

      In my case, I’m thinking that more words = a greater chance of seeing that thing published one day. Because right now, it’s a novel-lite if I ever saw one. But no matter what I change or add or delete, word count is remaining stubbornly static. Maybe that’s the universe’s way of telling me to leave well-enough alone.

      Your situation is different, of course. Right now, you’re thinking that maybe you added too much, to the detriment of the thing. So like I said, maybe step away for a bit–if you haven’t already–step away and come back at it with fresh eyes. I think of Stephen King’s addage: he writes, then automatically goes back in there and cuts 30% of the fat. Less words = a cleaner, crisper novel, so tight you could bounce a penny off that bad boy.

      Whatever you decide to do, wishing you good luck on it, Jen. You’ve obviously got something of value there.

      xo kk


      • Hey, I see novel-lites come out pretty regularly. The new David Mitchell, SLADE HOUSE, is rather small. And Jeanette Winterson’s books tend to be short-ish either (though I’m uncertain of wordcount). You might just need to leave well enough alone!

        I do feel like I have the bones of a good thing, anyway. I’ve got a couple friends I can browbeat into reading both versions and see where I can strike the balance.


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