DearEditor.com is hosting a “Revision Week” in which she interviews various authors about their revision process.
Today, Robin LaFevers answers the question, “When it is sent to the printer. Seriously. I could fiddle and tweak forever. In fact, I have been known to tweak and edit on a printed copy of the book before doing a reading. But there is a point where you aren’t necessarily making it better—just making it different. Or so I try to tell myself.”
We could tweak, edit, fiddle until the earth ended and still not be satisfied. We are perfectionists.
But there are some definite points at which you should stop for a while, or stop for good.
- Stop and Let it Rest. After a first draft and after each major revision, if you
have the luxury, let the manuscript sit for a month or longer. It’s at this point that there are two manuscripts: the one you dreamed of writing and the one you actually wrote. You need some perspective, some time to SEE that there are two. Otherwise, you only see the one you intended to write, not the words you actually put on paper. Take a break. Come back with a fresh eye toward making the two manuscripts match up better.
- When you Don’t Know What Else to Do. There are times, when I finish a draft that I think, “I’ve done everything I know to do.” That’s when I need feedback from a critique group or an editor. I can only do the best I can do at any particular point in time. Feedback can shove me off my comfort zone, can make me uncomfortable with some aspect of the story, can get me back revising. But sometimes, I can do nothing more until I get feedback.
- Move from Critique Group Input to Editorial Input. There’s definitely a time to thank your critique group and depend on editorial input. The critique group will get you into an editor’s hands; then, you must please only two people, you and the editor. Doesn’t matter at that point if the critique group doesn’t agree: they aren’t backing up their opinion with cash. At this point, I don’t get feedback from the group. When the editor says it’s done, it’s done.
- Deadline. Sometimes, there’s an external impetus to stop. Of course, you must stop when it goes to press. Not always the best stopping point, but the realities of writing sometime dictate this. Work fast and furious as long as you can. Then let it go.
- Please Myself. As the author, though, I am the first and only audience in some ways. I want to please myself and make sure this story is the absolute best I can make it. I quit only when I am sure I can do no better. Period. No feedback budges me. No cooling-off period budges me. Nope. When I can do no more, it’s time to quit. Stop second-guessing, stop whining that it’s not perfect but I don’t know why it’s not perfect. Let it go. Stop. Do not revise again.