I often hear stories of writers who edit the same book over and over and over. They spend months, sometimes years rewriting and editing one book.
When do we say enough is enough and move on to the next project?
Writing friend Sherrinda asked that question a couple of weeks ago: “What if I am just too lazy to do the hard work of revising? What if I don't have what it takes? When you were first starting, what did you do? Revise and revise that first one or did you move on?” Her questions got me thinking (I love when that happens!).
First, we should always consider self-editing part of the job of writing. If we haven’t gone through the three basic steps of self-editing mentioned in the last post, then we need to before moving on.
However, when we finish the editing process, we often harbor a fear that our manuscript isn’t “ready.” If you’re like me, you probably find mistakes to fix every time you read anything you write.
I self-edited The Preacher’s Bride extensively soon after I wrote it and then again about a year later. I also hired a freelance editor to line-edit it. Most recently, it’s gone through in-house rewriting and line-editing. Even with all that work, there are times when I still can’t help wondering if it’s “good enough.” When it hits the shelves in the fall, I’m sure even then I’ll be able to open it up and find things I wish I could change.
Most of us experience doubts about our books. Sometimes, the doubt is good because it causes us to re-evaluate whether our books are indeed ready to send out. But sometimes doubt acts as an anchor that weighs us down and keeps us from moving forward.
How then, can we tell when we’re truly ready to stop self-editing a project and move on? When is doubt helpful to our writing careers and when is it hurtful? Here are a few of my thoughts. I don’t claim to be the expert, so make sure you chime in with your advice in the comments.
Maybe it’s time to move on. . .
• . . . when it’s the first book we’ve written. The first and second books we write will probably end up being our practice books. They’re the ones we write out of the deep well of our creativity, when we’re blissfully unaware of fiction-writing basics. And that’s okay. That’s the job of the early books—to help us discover our inner creator and solidify the joy of the writing process. Sometimes the first books aren’t meant for anything but that.
• . . . when editing is mostly rewriting. Substantive edits (aka rewrites) are a major part of the self-editing process. We’ll need to add, delete, and overhaul scenes. We can tighten the threads, sew new ones here and there, and switch things around. But the longer we rip and repair, the greater our chances of the finished product coming out looking frayed and shabby. If we get to a point where our story needs too much overhaul, we may have to consider starting over, re-plotting and re-planning for a tighter weave (or moving on to the next story idea and learning from our mistakes).
• . . . when we’re putting all our hopes for publication into one book. My agent tried to sell two of my books to Bethany House. They only bought one of them—The Preacher’s Bride (and contracted me for two more different ones). What if I’d only had the one they didn’t want (which I actually considered a better story)? If we get stuck on just one book, what if it’s not our break-in book? We’ll expand our chances if we finish editing and then move on to the next book.
• . . .when we’ve lost the joy of writing. Notice I didn’t say, “When it’s no longer fun.” Editing isn’t always fun. Sometimes it’s pure torture. But when editing a particular book begins to zap our joy in writing, then perhaps it’s time to shelf that book for a time. When we’re in the trenches of editing, we can lose perspective. Time and distance often help us regain it.
Your turn. What are your thoughts? When’s enough, enough? How do you decide when it’s time to move on to the next project?