Revision is (potentially) an infinite task. Perfectionists beware of how “perfect” can inhibit “progress.”
Enough is enough. Liken editing to pruning. Cutting away dead and overgrown branches encourages fruitfulness and growth; however, if you cut off too much, you’re left with something bare and ugly—something maybe even unrecognizable that certainly won’t bear fruit and that certainly won’t grow.
Even great editors tend to over-edit their own work, especially when they’re perfectionists. I was once told by a peer, “I think you’re done editing when you can read it through and don’t feel the compulsive need to change it.”
Good advice, sure, but not applicable to all writers (and, from my experience, not applicable to most good writers). Some of us never shake that feeling and always believe we can improve upon something, be it a comma or a whole sequence of words.
After seven years of editing—two of which were dedicated to assisting graduate students with their high-stakes academic works—I think I’ve discovered how to answer the painful and seemingly unanswerable question: When to finalize the final draft?
A second pair of eyes (i.e., hiring an editor to look over your work) is essential. Even when you step away from your writing for a few days, your eyes will start to glaze over and once again and you will lose focus during the editing process. The over-pruning starts again; the plant dies a little more. An editor can provide feedback and specific steps to streamline and eventually complete revision. Following said steps will keep you focused on achieving set goals during the editing process and prevent you from fumbling around with and second-guessing trivial adjectives.
You can finalize the final draft when—drum roll, please—every sentence serves a purpose. If you are able to read each sentence individually and confidently name the specific purpose that sentence serves in achieving your intended meaning, you’re finished, finito—finalize it. If you’re struggling to identify why a sentence, or phrase, or even a word exists, then it need be either deleted or revised to carry that meaning.