January 4, 2012 – There comes a time during the writing process when an author has to stop editing.
They need to take what they’ve written and do with it what they will, whether it’s posted online, sent to a publication or agent, filed it in a drawer or on one of those handy external hard drives, and move on to the next project.
The ability to know when to stop is important. For me the line is blurred and I cross it every time, which is why exercises/assignments (like this blog) with hard deadlines work particularly well for me.
For many writers the editing process is separate from the revision/rewriting process, but in my mind and for the sake of this article, I’m combining these tasks into one. Which leads back to my question: when should a writer stop editing?
One good habit I’ve developed is that I typically don’t start editing/revising until I have a final draft of a complete story. The urge to edit while I write is there, but I force myself not to, telling myself that I’m not particularly concerned with how badly written my first draft is; it’s more important to get the story down on paper (or in the computer) and polish it from there. It’s after that step, when the first draft is complete that I lose myself in the endless circle of editing especially when I have the luxury of time. I’ve always worked best under pressure.
Take my latest project, for example. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to write more fiction. The entire time I was laid off I promised myself I would work on writing fiction, perhaps be inspired to write a few short stories, or really dive in and write a novel. That didn’t happen. However, I gave myself a break since I managed most of my time off wisely by taking classes in public relations and social media, and learning all I could about search engine optimization (which I need to apply to this blog). That way, I figured I would increase my communication skills and stay relevant for the job market.
Now that I’m working again and back to writing business communications on a regular basis, I am itching to start a new work of fiction. This girl’s dream is still to sign a contract with a major publishing house, and I’m more inclined to write fiction when I’m employed. Perhaps it’s the discipline of writing every day that fuels the desire.
The real dilemma is that little voice in the back of my head keeps telling me I can’t move on to anything new until I finish what I’ve already started. But here’s where it gets tricky: some of these works in progress are 15 or 20 years old. They’ve been through several rounds of editing already, but each time I re-read them I find something I want to change and the cycle begins again.
Sure I can fool myself by believing it’s because I am a better writer now with much more experience than I was when I started those projects years ago. And I believe wholeheartedly that they still have promise and can improve or I wouldn’t waste my time. But honestly it’s also about fear. Every time I think about starting something new I freak out and suddenly I’m lost and don’t know where to begin. The ideas are there, yet I stare at the blank page with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and then berate myself about not being a serious writer. The quick fix is to reach for my comfort food, also known as those works of fiction waiting to get better that never let me down. And when I start editing – or rewriting – I am high on life with joy surging through my veins, happy that I am participating in the writing process again.
There is plenty of advice available for writers in bookstores, in writing groups and on the Internet, and so much advice that contradicts other advice, so where’s a girl to turn? I suppose I have to find what works for me and ignore the rest.
For instance, I’ve read that writers should never edit their own work because they are too close to it to be objective. That’s definitely true during the publication process, when a professional editor takes over. But it’s seems crazy to avoid editing before it goes to the publisher. Others believe writers endlessly edit certain pieces because they are lazy. Starting something new takes a lot of effort, so that’s plausible. But then I’ll shove that notion aside, rationalize that rewriting is just as important as writing and go back to editing until I’m satisfied.
Problem is I never am.
So what if I want to hang on to the friends I already have instead of making new ones. That doesn’t make me completely antisocial. A little lazy perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as being choosy.