What is the Right Amount of Editing?

I’ve once heard an author being asked:

“If writers create purely for pleasure, why do they publish in the end? Why don’t they keep their work in the drawer?”

“To stop editing and move to the next thing,” the author replied. 

Unfortunately, I’m not able to remember the who and when said that, and I haven’t been able to find that conversation ever since. However, I strongly agree with the anonymous author.

The Perfectionist

Sometimes, the author is strangled by the editing process, especially if she leans more towards the perfectionist level. The perfectionists are doomed to suffer from dissatisfaction, but there are other writers who over-edit although they couldn’t be marked as perfectionists. 

Edit on the Way

Hemingway was one of those writers who would edit along the way. He would edit the pages he had written the day before and then continue from where he’d left. The other writers would write in the morning and edit in the evening or during the day.

Any editing is better than no editing

On the other hand, there are people, who, in my opinion, edit too little. You can sense that after reading something that feels as unfinished because something crucial is missing.

Perhaps it’s due to deadlines, or the author was just fed up with the project, or maybe the lack of skills and knowledge caused that effect, perhaps the time wasn’t right or whatever. The reason is not important.

What’s important is that the line between the editing too much and editing too little is unclear. It would be nice if writing and editing, as a crucial part of the process, could have a recipe, but it doesn’t. 

Where is that middle? What gives you the signal to stop and hit the publish? How do you know that it’s good enough to ship?

A fascinating example

Recently I’ve stumbled upon an author,  Michael La Ronn, who seems to be pretty successful when it comes to the number of readers he has and the revenues he makes from his work. He also has a book “on writing”, as many authors do nowadays. I purchased it and at some point in the book I ended up being disappointed. 

Namely, the title of the book is Be a Writing Machine: Write Faster and Smarter, Beat Writer’s Block, and Be Prolific, and it teaches you exactly what its title says: to be a word grinding machine which is spitting novel after novel without paying much attention to the editing process.

At one point, the author says that over the time of 4 years, which is his entire writing career, he has developed a habit of publishing basically first drafts, and that’s the main reason why he was able to write and publish more than 40 novels, in four years!

While on one hand, I envy him for being able to finish that many novels, on the other hand, I kind of doubt in the quality of these novels which are grinned from the writing machine he had turned himself into.

I am tempted to grab one of his novels and actually read it, but I have a feeling that I wouldn’t last long there.

How about the masters?

If masters like Sorkin and Mamet spend years writing a screenplay, which is a much shorter format than a novel, what kind of a literature can somebody produce in a month?

What would Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joys, and other avid editors think of Michael and numerous other writers who pay zero attention to editing and who are grinding novel after novel?