If you haven't heard it before, let me be the one to tell you that greatness in literature is created not in the writing, but the editing. No one flops out a first draft ready to take on the world. While most of us understand the great need to edit and polish our manuscripts, the looming question is always how much.
When I first began my journey toward publications I would hear of authors working on their 16th or 17th draft. The idea of making that many edits made me want to quit before I even got started. I've learned along the way that those many drafts aren't a requirement, but the question is still present. When will I know I'm done editing?
There still isn't any hard or fast rule, but here are five semi-helpful benchmarks to help you answer the question: Am I done yet?
So you've edited the big stuff. Your plot is hole free and your character arcs are like double rainbows. You've fine tuned your dialogue and everything feels good. But you still find yourself in edits. Because instead of moving on, you keep switching perfectly good words for other perfectly good words.
Newsflash, this thing is never going to be perfect. There will always be a better word. Stop. You're done.
Fear and Loathing between the pages
You've read your manuscript so many times you have entire paragraphs memorized. You could quote your character's breakthrough scene like it's Ice Ice Baby on Karaoke night. And now, you can't stand to read it one more time. You are actually skimming parts. Not because they are boring, but because you cannot bring yourself to read that scene for the 50th time.
You don't have to read it anymore. Stop. You're done.
Because you must
Maybe you have a deadline with your publisher. Maybe you promised your editor you'd have the final draft to them by a certain date. Either way, your deadline has come and it's time. Unless you honestly haven't put in the time to edit your manuscript, you need to turn it in.
Publishing is slow enough as it is. Don't make it any worse. Stop. You're done.
Arson isn't a bad idea
Every writer reaches that point when they have edited their book so much that they are now convinced they are in possession of 300 pages of complete horse manure. You're convinced that despite what other people say, you've written the literary equivalent of a compost heap. The only thing to do now is light the whole thing on fire and start over.
Don't do this. You're manuscript isn't crap. Stop. You're done.
The final countdown
You were convinced you were done editing three weeks ago, but every time you read it you find other places to make improvements. Each time you tell yourself this is it, but it never is. Now you have eighteen word docs all name Book_Title_Final, Book_Title_Final2, Book_Title_Final3, etc. This isn't healthy. You're going to make yourself sick, blow up your computer, delete the wrong file or all three.
You can only be done once. Stop. You're done.
Seriously, only you the writer can know when your book is really done. But don't let a fear of missing perfection keep you from pursuing your dreams. No book will ever be perfect. So at some point, you just have to let go and say "I'm done."