Thursday, August 14, 2008

When are you done?

These are common pieces of writing advice:

--Allow yourself to write a bad first draft. Get something down, because you can't revise a blank page.
--After completing a manuscript, set it aside for a few weeks. With fresh eyes, you can revise.
--Have critique partner(s) or beta readers let you know what does/doesn't work for them so you can revise.

So when ARE you done? When is a manuscript finished? I've heard many published authors say even if they reread one of their books already on the shelves, they find things to change or improve.

And then, of course, even when you think you're done, agents and/or editors may ask for more revisions, before or after you sell. On the one hand, having an industry professional point out what she considers to be a weakness is a great thing. Some authors take offense that anyone would dare to criticize their carefully crafted tomes, but most know that revision requests are often another step on the road to publication of that book.

The industry professional is interested enough in your writing and story to take the time out of her busy day to work with you. And at least now you know what to fix. But the mind boggles as I consider the advice of critiquers and work my way through requested revisions. The hard part is applying a suggestion you understand intellectually to your characters and plot.

Take, for example, the suggestion to add more motivation for a character. How much is enough? Do I need a whole new scene, or can I add to an existing one? How do I trust my gut, which obviously wasn't right in the first place or I wouldn't be revising?

One way, for the first 20 pages at least, is via my Romance Writer of America chapter. We give critiques at our meetings. You bring in copies of your first 20 pages and read them to the group. Then the 20+ people attending make written comments and provide an oral critique.

When I review the comments at home and see a bunch of smiley faces on a page, I'm confident that section resonates. If many members mark that don't like something, it's easier to accept that element should be changed than if only one person disliked it.

I used to think I knew when I was done. Maybe, as some say, the answer is you're never done. So how do you ignore the urge to go through the pages just one more time, looking for everything from typos to missed opportunities for emotion?

Maybe the question is, "When do you let go?"

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