Thursday, 14 August 2008

Knowing when to stop

I've spent the morning editing a couple of stories for submission.
What a nightmare!!!
I go through the text looking for errors in spelling and grammar and correct them. I change the odd word or phrase. I'm on the look out for any inconsistencies. Then I go through the whole process again and I might change something else. God help me if I go through it a third time because I guarantee that I'll find something else to tinker with.
When do I stop???
I think that if you keep going over a piece of writing there is always something that can be changed. It's hard to know when you are fiddling with something just for the sake of it.


Anonymous said...

This is a very familiar question to me. I don't have a comprehensive answer for editing fiction, but I can tell you what I've learned from another walk of life: software development. The analogous question in software engineering is: When do you stop testing? You can't test everything because there are too many possible paths through the program code, in a modern computer application. It would take longer than the age of the universe to cover every possibility. So when have you tested enough? Going back to writing, I suppose the question would be: When have you edited enough?

I suspect the answers in both cases are similar: When it is good enough. When it is fit for purpose. When it meets the requirements and/or specifications.

So what would be a typical set of requirements for a piece of writing? Only you can answer that in detail, but here are some things to consider.

* Is it suitable for the target readership?
* Will they enjoy the story.
* Does it grip the reader?
* Is there a beginning, middle (not muddle) and end?
* Used all senses, where appropriate?
* Avoided clich├ęs?
* Shown not told?

I'm sure there are loads more things you could add to the list. Some might be generic and some might be subject- or genre-specific. One thing to make absolutely certain of, and you should know this one, is to conform to any given submission requirements for each of your target agents/publishers.

Another technique is to let things rest for a while, then go back to it and "test" things once again. Alternatively, you can simply set yourself a deadline, beyond which you'll do no more editing and force yourself to send the piece off for submission. That way, you'll make yourself stop.

Gonna be a writer said...

Good advice. I think that the point that I'll set myself beyond which I will not edit will be when I have gone through something three times. If I haven't got it right by then it will just have to take a chance out there in the real world.