Author’s Note: This is a revised post.
What is the key to literary excellence? Revision, of course. However, the time comes when we must tell ourselves to stop. We can get so hooked on revision that we never submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers. I know, because I’ve had this problem. Like most writers, I love playing with words.
How do we know when to stop revising ? Here are a few tips.
1. When we’re tired of looking at/reading our manuscript after multiple revisions. This isn’t always a sign that we’re finished, but it might be. Put the work aside for a day or two, then return to it and look for any major problems we may have missed. See any? If so, we’re not done yet.
2. When all the major problems with our work have been corrected, such as openings, endings, scenes, characterization, plot, etc., our revision has reached its end.
3. When we’re just finding minor issues, such as punctuation errors and typos, after the major editing has finished. These minor errors must all be corrected, of course.
4. After we’ve let someone whose judgement we trust read our manuscript, who gives us honest feedback and advice for improving our work. Be sure whoever gives the advice is qualified to give it, though. Don’t approach just any person for it.
5. When we’re confident that we’ve done our best work.
WARNING! WARNING! OVER-REVISION.
When we over-revise, our writing suffers. This is why it’s important to know when to stop. What once was a good story will become a bad one because we’ve either cut it too much, or added too much to it.
Suppose, after we see our work in print, we still find problems with it? One thing I’ve learned from hard experience is this: these things happen. We aren’t perfect, editors aren’t perfect, proofreaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes the simplest things, such as misplaced punctuation or typos, are easy to miss. If we’ve done a good job, though, and have a good editor and/or proofreader, there shouldn’t be too many of these.
Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. Then submit.