Sunday, December 2, 2012
How to Know When You're Done Revising
That's the good and bad of being a kid - you have to get permission to be done, but it also relieves you of the responsibility of having to decide for yourself. As anyone who gained a Freshman 10, 15 or 20 in college discovered, learning when you're done - and applying the discipline to stop there - is not an easy proposition.
I know a lot of writers who type THE END at the finish of their manuscripts. It gives them a sense of satisfaction and complete. A certain amount of triumph. This has never been a thing for me. Not that I don't enjoy that exhausted elation of finishing the draft, but it never feels like the end to to me.
Because, really - and we all know this, yes? - it's not really done at all.
Even writers who write really clean first drafts are not done at that point. For those rare sparkly unicorns who send it to their editors immediately, they still have at least copy edits to do. Even if a writer is self-publishing and chooses to skip any revision or editing, there's still formatting to do.
But, for most writers, there's a vast and rolling journey that lies between typing that last sentence and seeing the book in the reader's hands. For some it's a fairly straightforward back and forth of a series of revisions and edits - there and back again. For others, it's the equivalent of walking into Mordor.
Some never come back.
Why is this? Because there is no one, absolutely no one in this world who can tell you that you're done with a book.
There's no such thing.
It's never done.
The sooner you accept this, the more Zen you'll be.
There never, ever comes a point where a book or story can't be tweaked just a little more. Proofed once again. Massaged just a titch.
So how do you know when you're done? If there's no one to excuse you from the table, how do you know it's time to stop?
Only you can know.
I apologize if the title of this post was misleading. I'm really not trying to pull a bait and switch here.
The thing is, know when you're done is part of growing up as an author. It's one of the most difficult parts to learn. Just as we all grow up and learn when enough food is enough, when to stop partying and go home to get some sleep, when a friendship is no longer good for us, a grown-up author has to learn when a story is ready.
This goes both directions. Sometimes we're ready to be done and don't want to hear that a story isn't working. Other times it's scary to let go and let the chips fall where they may, so we kept it for just one more pass. And, yes, you can absolutely revise too much.
As with all these examples, it takes maturity and honesty to decide. It takes that long, hard look in the mirror to examine your motivations.
Somewhere, deep in your heart, you always know.
It's up to you to listen to the answer and act on it.