Monday, May 21, 2012

When to Stop Revising

This is a subject I have wondered about many times when slogging through the vast amounts of advice that is available to writers on the internet.  I have heard writers/authors talking about the book that they worked on for years. And years. And years. Now, if you are one of those writers- I don't mean to ruffle your feathers, it just doesn't work for me- personal preferences and all that.

My first thought when I hear these stories is that maybe, just maybe, it's time to, you know, move on?

I can't imagine what would happen if I had finished my first novel and then spent years of my life revising that one poor, tired, miserable thing.  How would I ever learn?  How would I grow?

Now I'm sure that there are success stories out there about authors who have picked away at that novel for ten years and finally gotten it published, etc. But think about how much more could they have accomplished if they just. Moved. On.

My take on the situation is this- I write a novel, I do my personal best to make sure it's in good shape.  I see if there is interest.  While I'm waiting for responses from query letters, I work on my next piece.  If the response isn't what I'd hoped for, I move on to trying to sell my next project, which- theoretically- is in better shape than the previous one, because I've had more practice.  I figure that eventually, I will have enough experience under my belt to write a salable novel.

Maybe once I reach that point, I will go back and fix what is wrong with my previous work- because I will then know what is wrong and have the skill to fix it in a reasonable time frame.  I would also have someone on my side to give me knowledgeable feedback regarding where things went wrong (ie: agent or editor), so that I'm not wasting time making revisions of my revisions of my revisions...

I think that for an unpublished author to spend so much time on something is counter productive.  We are still learning what works, still finding our groove.  It's entirely possible at this point that what I think is a mega, awesome, stellar story idea is actually...not.  How terrible would it be to spend three, or five, or ten years of my life re-writing a story that sucked? And realistically speaking, it's hard for new writers to be objective about their work.  So would you ever know?

Scary, isn't it?

I'll be the first to admit, I probably under-revise.  I feel like if something isn't working, it's out and the new stuff is in (so ruthless!).  I'll come back to it later.  I just want to keep moving forward and never lose my momentum.

If you are in the mood to laugh at yourself and this thing called writing, I suggest the  Terrible Minds blog.  Every time I visit the blog, I laugh until I cry.  In one post, they outline the 25 Things You Should Know About Writing.

 Number 8:

"But You Also Have to Know When to Leave Well Enough Alone
Seriously, you have to stop sometime. You whip mashed potatoes too long they get gluey. Comes a time when you need to stop fucking with a novel the same way you stop tonguing a chipped tooth. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Write till it’s good, not till it’s perfect. Because you don’t know shit about perfect. Aim squarely for a B+, and then it’s time to let others have a shot in getting the novel to that A/A+ range."

So, how do you know when to put a book on the shelf (for now) and stop revising? Do you have a set number of revisions?  Do you set time frames?  Does it just depend on how much hair you have left after you finish the current draft?


  1. I can see both sides, definitely. I think one of the things we have to learn is when it's time to move on and when it's worth another go.

    I'm one of those weirdos who's been working on the same novel for five years. But, it's undergone drastic changes - and I mean almost totally different stories - and I've written other things while letting it rest.

    I've let things die too, definitely. I guess this one just haunts me. I'll put it down for good and then bang, inspiration hits, and I go back and retool the whole thing. Maybe one day it will die for good. Time will tell, I suppose.

    1. I think the key is that you are still working on other things in the meantime. Whenever I hear those stories, I think of becoming stalled. You certainly haven't done that. I have a story that I want to go back a re-write. It was the first thing I ever wrote, and I am still in love with the characters and the world. I want to give it another go, but not until I know it will be time well spent. In that case, I think the story was too big to be the first thing I ever wrote. I think I am approaching the point where I can try again- but in the mean time I've written 4+ other novels in different ways, and I've been able to learn from each of them. Good luck with your never ending story :)

  2. Good question....I am a never-stop reviser and have to work on that. Well, at least for my novels. My blog, not so much. I tend to forget to proofread and depend on hubby to tell me something is amiss (unless it's flash). LOL!

    1. I hear you on the blog. I post then think, oops, that looks bad!

      I feel like, if I keep revising, eventually I can't even tell what's what anymore. I feel like I have to tell myself to stop before what is (I think) a B+ becomes a D-. (Or a big 'ol F for fail!)


I'd love to hear your musings :)