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:~: Monday, February 27, 2006 :~:

When is Enough, Enough?

A very dear writing friend and I were chatting the other night before our local RWA meeting. She has a partial under consideration with an editor she met and pitched to at Nationals, and I was curious about where she stood in the whole submission process. When I asked her if she's finished her edits on the rest of the manuscript, she cringed and said, "Sort of. But I'm still . . . picking."

Hmmm. Do I understand that!

We're all guilty of "picking". At some point, though, you have to call it quits on a manuscript or you risk losing your mind in the whole edit/revision process. Its way too easy to keep "picking" away at something to make it perfect. I know, because I've done it.

All writers write differently. A common writing/editing strategy I've encountered is a five-step process. Write one fast first draft. Layer in plot holes in the second draft. Strengthen emotional conflict in the third. Add sensory details and descriptions in the fourth. Fix all grammar and spelling errors in the fifth. Call it quits and send it out.

Doesn't work for me.

I'm a perfectionist. I'll admit that right now. So when my dear friend said she was "picking", I totally got that, and I wanted to shake some sense into her and yell, "Stop the madness!!!" Luckily, I restrained myself, but it was hard.

I have picked a manuscript to death and then some. It comes from wanting something to be the best it could ever be, from pushing yourself because you know you can be better. But you know what I've discovered? Everything I write is better than the last, and at some point, if you don't stop and move on, you won't ever get better. You'll stay in the same rut, reworking the same story again and again. No matter what, a manuscript will never EVER be done. I've simply come to terms with that fact. There will always, always, ALWAYS be something you could have changed to make it better, stronger, more beautiful, no matter how great a writer you are.

So when is enough for you?

Having now been at this writing gig for several years, and with a handful of manuscripts under my belt, I've finally found a system that works well for me. I write a chapter, read it and revise, read again and edit, send it to my critique partners for feedback, edit again, and then call it good and move on to the next chapter. When I finish one chapter I'm pretty much done with it for good. By the time I get through a whole manuscript, my chapters are highly polished and all that's left is to tie loose ends together that may have been missed, make sure red herrings and clues make sense, and give it a final read-through for smoothness.

Does that mean it takes me longer to get through a manuscript than others? Maybe. On average about 4-5 months from start to finish. But when I compare that to other writers who may get a first draft done in a month, then spend another month on each "step", it tends to be about the same amount of time.

Once I'm finished, I put the manuscript away and try to forget about it. (Um, try is the key word here.) If I get a request or submit it somewhere, I give it another read-through to see what I may have missed, but I don't stress over it anymore. If I did, I'd make myself insane. (Been there, done that.) I do enough of that in the initial writing process, trying to choose the perfect words to make my story come to life on the page.

My fabulous friends here will tell you they do things differently. Both like to let a manuscript marinate for a while before revising. I find I can't move on to the next story until I have this one completely finished. If I'm tempted to think of it again, I can't possibly focus on something else. But unlike other writers, I can't work on more than one manuscript at a time, either.

So when is enough for you? And how do you know when it's time to stop "picking" at your work of art and call it quits? How do you handle edits and revisions? I'd love to hear what works for you, what doesn't and what you've learned along the way.


Blogger Paty Jager said...

I believe my problem is I'm NOT a perfectionist. And this is why I haven't sold. The last two people with years of knowledge in this profession told me my writing needs editing. Which leads me to believe though I sometimes struggle for words and try my best to put the commas in the right spot and not be redundant - In my haste to send things out, I don't always go over it as closely as I probably could.

That is what I am working on now. Making myself slow down, check and recheck things, and get it as spotless as I can.

And I am a burb out the first draft kind of writer and then go back through and add all the fluff and color. I tend make the first draft emotional and character driven.

But that's just me.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

I totally get what you mean by "picking" a MS to death. I could *still* pick HOTM up and work on it, and you *know* how often that bad boy has been rewritten, polished, etc.

I think you nailed it with the whole "every new thing I write is better." There comes a point when you just have to let go and move on, or we'd all be writing the same manuscript forever.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I don't pick unless something is wrong. I have a story to tell and I tell it. If I find myself picking at it, it's because someone has made a comment that could potentially make the work better, and that I consider revising.

I'm more of the 5 step type, although I'm not that structured. I have to have an entire ms done before I let anyone else see it. That's because my stories, while well plotted out (sometimes a little TOO plotted out) often change as I go, and I find myself going back and layering into earlier chapters or changing direction all together and having to rewrite. I want to have all that done before my CPs get ahold of it. Of course there are always changes after they've looked at it, but I try to have it as tied up as possible before it goes out, and to do that, I have to finish it before I can go back.

My pattern is more, write, write, write, pause, go back, layer, redirect, continue writing, write, write, go back, layer, write, etc. until the end. I put it away while I edit an earlier ms, then pull it out, give it a final read (on paper), note where I need to revise, tie, polish, make those edits then it goes out to the CPs...and the process starts over again.

I have an internal guage when it comes to my mss. I can "feel" what stage of completion they're in. And when they're done. They're done.

Unless my agent says otherwise, of course. :-)

4:34 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Paty, being a perfectionist isn't all it's cracked up to be. ;) While Joan will tell you she's the obsessive one, and Linda claims to be the compulsive one, I'm more a mixture of the two - an obsessive compulsive perfectionist who has trouble knowing when enough is enough.

Slowing down and getting it just right is hard, especially when you're excited about getting it out there. I totally get that. And I'm guilty of that myself.

Lin, I still think you should "pick" at HOTM again. And I hope someday (if it doesn't sell it before then), you do.

J, since I have no agent, I'll defer to your expertise. But I like your idea of an internal guage. I think we all have that, we just don't always listen to it.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

No, no, no. I'M the compulsive one. Lin's the obsessive one.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Dang. I always get that mixed up. ;)

My bad.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

No, no, no. I'm obsessive and compulsive -- just ask my doctor.

And meds can be a wonderful thing. ;-)

E, not sure I'm going to "pick" at HOTM again -- but if TAC gets picked up by SIM, T&C might get resurrected with a new plot.

(And it ain't gonna sell. I can see the big issues with it now and I *know* it won't.)

5:08 AM  

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