Deb just posted about a problem that I think is common to a great deal of writers: knowing when to stop the revising/rewriting/reworking.

I think Fleur’s comment on Deb’s post is very telling–when you’re putting stuff back in and you’re rearranging commas and only commas, then you’ve got the piece as good as you’re probably gonna get it.

Knowing when you’re done–whether the piece is good enough or not–is a slightly different story.

I think that if you are too tired/emotionally wrenched/busy to plunge back into a piece again (and you have to really feel that again by the way) then you kind of have your answer. The answer is: don’t work on it anymore.

Here’s the problem that we run into–sometimes it’s not ‘don’t work on it anymore’, it’s ‘don’t work on it anymore for right now’.

Recently I finished* a manuscript and I reworked it based on critiques and feedback. It came out stronger. Strong enough that I felt confident to send it out. I got a couple requests for pages and then received very polite rejection letters.

It’s not there yet, and I know all the reasons why. However, I just could not look at it anymore. So I’ve put it aside. I’m working on a couple new somethings which I really dig and I started jotting notes for another larger piece.

A couple nights ago, though, I knew very clearly how I should fix it. I wasn’t looking for the solution, it just popped into my head and it was symmetrical and lovely. But guess what that means? Jumping back in again. I think the story is worth it.

Now, however, is not the time to be working on it. I’m busy learning things from finishing other novels. I think that’s very important. Finish one thing, rework it as best you can, move on to something else–whether it’s good enough or not.

I think that’s the learning process. I don’t think I would ever have had the idea to fix the older novel if I weren’t working on these new pieces. Then, when I go back and make that one the best it can possibly be, I’ll fix it–and teach myself how to fix all those other pieces I was working on in the meantime.

The answer in either case, whether you refuse to look at the piece again or whether you intend to rewrite it eventually, is to put the piece that’s frustrating you aside. If you get back to it because what you’ve learned has struck a chord and you feel the need to pick up a pen/slam some computer keys until the piece works…then great! But don’t beat yourself up if you got a great idea to fix it and never pick the novel up again–you’ve answered your own question and you’re finishing too many other cool things.

Most of the time (99.9% of the time) the first book we write is not the first one we publish…and sometimes that novel stays under the bed, not because we decided that we wouldn’t work on it anymore, but because we haven’t made it back to it yet.

What do you guys think?

*This talk is about finished rough drafts and rewriting. I don’t think that you should just put down a rough draft that’s in progress, because you don’t know what it is yet.

6 thoughts on “

  1. I've got a novel under the bed…it was a great piece to learn on…maybe some day I'll come back to it and fix it up, but I'm not sure that's the right thing to do. I'd rather just love it (myself only), flaws and all.

  2. You said it! And that's why all the rhetoricals. I won't know how I feel about the again until I get the feedback.

    I agree about the rough drafts, too, unless I just can't figure out what goes next–which has only happened once. I think it was Bransford who asked when people abandoned a first draft. It was amazing how many answered under 50 pages.

  3. Anita–I too have a novel (novels? I'll never tell…) waging war with the dust bunnies.

    Deb–I was surprised too, under 50 pages and you don't even know if it was short-story worthy or not.

  4. I don't know if I'll get my first novel out again or not. But I've just completed another edit on a novel and I'm thinking I'm done. I read the whole thing out loud. Now I need to think if the whole thing holds together and I don't have any dangling plot lines. Because I hate that! But it's easier to spot them in others than in your own stuff.

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