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.

2 comments:

Captain Black 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.