Thursday, 16 December 2010

How Do I Know When I Should Stop Editing?

This is probably the question I get asked more than any other.  It's certainly the question I flounder most with answering.  Some people are far too quick and jump the gun with sending their work out, so it goes with hundreds of errors; others carry on tinkering and never send anything out because it's 'not yet perfect'.  

I reckon you're done when...

You're sick to death of your manuscript.
You no longer have a niggling feeling that something's not working.
Feedback from friends and workshop groups concentrates on teeny points.
You've done at least one major re-write which has involved restructuring.
Everybody you know has asked when you are sending it out. And that was over a year ago.

You're sending it out too early when...

You know there's something wrong with the text but don't know what and send it out hoping that no one else might notice.  
You know there's something wrong with the text but don't know what and send it out hoping that an editor will see past that.  Or better still, do the editing for you.
You've sent it out to your workshop group for feedback and haven't had it back yet, but send it out anyway.
This is your first draft.
This is your second draft.

How do I know?  I don't.  I stop editing when I stop feeling guilty. I feel there's nothing more that I can do and the text has to go out into the world ready or not. 

I think you have to keep in mind the reality of the situation: there is no such thing as a perfect text.  Person X may love it, person Y will hate it.  You may think it's perfect now; in a year you may feel quite differently.  In other words, if you reckon it's done, don't procrastinate by tinkering.  Send it out and see what happens. 


Fiona Faith Maddock said...

'Send it out and see what happens'. Quite so. There comes a point where you simply have to take a leap into the dark. As you say, it won't be published if it sits in a drawer. I find it comforting that I had more or less reached these conclusions when I decided to send mine out. I can't tweak it any more...really I can't.

My mother wrote a semi-autobigraphical novel. I 'ghosted' it for her. We worked on it together. It was good, it was pacy and fresh. Random House asked to see it...She chopped it all around, added some what I call 'hoi poloi' stuff and of course then RH rejected it. I'm furious with her (with my editorial hat on).
You can, IMHO, 'kill' a novel by overworking it.

Sarah Duncan said...

It sounds like you were at exactly the right point to send out. I feel for your mother - it's agony rewriting to someone else's dictats, only for them to turn it down in the end. There's a Virginia Woolf quote - I can't find it - but it's along the lines of I have rewritten and lost the part that is fresh and original.