Okay, maybe the picture is a bit heavy handed 😉 but this is an important issue, one worth repeating. When I mentioned typing “the end” on my latest novel this week, the fabulous academic/comics writer Mary Talbot wrote (perhaps somewhat jestingly), “But do you really just write to THE END then stop? What about the endless revisions and inability to let go?” I do know a lot of writers who hold onto a manuscript for far longer than they should, so let me ask again:
Are you an inveterate tinkerer?
I know some people who have been revising the same novel for years. This is not a sign of craftsmanship. At the very least it’s a sign of delaying — and at worst it’s a sign of neurosis. Certainly part of it is fear: because the next step is sending it out there where it may be trashed, sneered at or worst of all, ignored and rejected by form.
You’ll survive. And the sooner you start building up a healthy level of skin thickness that all creativity requires, the sooner you’ll be able to brush off inconsequential comments and recognise the helpful ones. Constructive criticism allows you to understand how the story in your head is not making it to someone else’s head. Ah ha, you say, I need to spell out a little more here or cut this part that is clear and rejigger this other section.
No matter how long you’ve been writing, you’ll need to keep receiving and evaluating feedback. And you’ll be less crushed by it — and chances are, you’ll also be a much better writer. So why are you still revising that story/novel/script? Because you think it’s not done. Why are you wrong?
1) It’s as good as it will ever be.
This is likely true if you’ve been revising for a long period of time. What’s ‘long’? Well, that is tricky. I get bored really quickly, so my revision periods tend to be short. Times vary. If it can be measured in years it’s too long! Seriously. Send it off and see how it goes. The news may be good — and an editor may have specific suggestions for a last round of tinkering. Let editors do their job! That’s why they’re there. It can be better once you’ve had some objective advice.
2) It’s just not good.
When you spend a lot of time on a story, you become invested in it. This is one of the things that leads to endless revision. Sometimes you write a story and then recognise, “Hey, I just copied my favourite writer’s brilliant idea” or “This was just my revenge killing of X” (it happens) or “wow, this is a real cliché of epic proportions” (literally). Revising it will not help that basic fact. Make a folder called “The Trunk” and put your story in there. You will not ever use anything in the trunk, but when you look through it on days when you feel dispirited, you will realise how much better a writer you have become.
3) You can’t seem to actually write an ending.
This is difficult, no doubt about it. On the plus side, publishers love writers who can write series that go on infinitely (television even more so). But you need to be able to write a conclusion that gives readers enough of a satisfaction that they can take a breath and feel a sense of closure. If you can’t seem to come to an ending, this is when you could most use an editor, a writing coach or a writers group to help you find it. As your flight attendant will tell you, some exits may be located behind you. The ending may be a few chapters back and you just missed it because you were enjoying your world so much. Find it. Ask for help if you can’t!
Stories have a beginning, middle and end. The writing process should, too. Write, finish a piece, send it off, start another. Or if you’re like me (not recommended), start lots of things at various times, juggle your efforts between them unpredictably, but always finish each one!
And then enjoy a little idleness before aiming for your next goal (always have a next goal).