Sunday, May 10, 2009

When Enough is too Much

There comes a time in every editing/revising process when a writer reaches that impossible summit. Where the air is thin and ideas wheeze out for lack of oxygen. You know what I mean- the point of editing saturation.

Generally, I write a fairly clean 1st draft. I like to see a good majority of the deep POV, and setting there. Not always, if I'm having a particularly hard time with a manuscript, but most of the time. As I go back and reread, deciding what needs to go and what can stay, I also read with an eye to what could be better: better worded, better action, better charaterization, better instensity. This is dangerous territory for me since I'm a picker. I can pick a story to death and back before I ever hit the send button, or print it to send snail mail.

Which brings me to the title of the blog: when enough is too much. How does a writer know that it's time to just put the damn book to bed and let the editor handle it? I go back and look at some of the books I published a few years ago and see things that make me cringe, things I'd change if I had the chance to do so now. For me, there really isn't an end point. If I put all my stories on the back burner for the next year, took them out again this time in 2010, I'd probably start from word one, page one and change and fiddle and mess with the entire book. It's a sickness. I really believe it is.

In answer to this creative OCD of mine, I've began to use lists to help me rewrite. I'll go through the entire book, from front to back and jot down anything I see that needs changed. (Small problems like tenses, spelling errors, or wrong words, I fix on the spot.) Anything else and I make a note of it. When I'm ready to go back, I mark each item off the list. When I finished with all the items, I send the book to a critique partner to go over. Then it happens again. I go through the comments, one at a time, read them all, then set the book aside for a bit to gain objectivity, keeping in mind the major points my critique partner has made. When I believe the ideas have had enough time to germinate, I go back and make a new set of notes and start from the beginning again. Generally, this means I only have about 2 or 3 drafts (I shouldn't even really call them drafts- because to me, drafts are where you start from the very beginning and write the whole thing from scratch, and I've only done that once so far in my writing career - soon to be twice)of a story. It may take me months and months to do this process, since I'm working on other things at the same time, but it helps me stay organized and on track. It also lets me know when...enough is too much.

I think I'm always afraid I'll reach that point where writing becomes too much methodical craft and function and less about the guts of storytelling. Instinctual storytelling is often the best kind.

So, what about you - where is your staturation point?



Wendy_Ely said...


I am afraid of writing becoming to methodical as well and my editing process is a lot like yours. However, I write the first draft from my heart. I put on the mp3 player and just write. I don't even edit during the first draft!

Sierra Wolfe said...

I never rewrite. I may cut out large chunks and write something to replace it, but never rewrite what's already written. I mainly go through and edit, over and over and over again. There have been times when I have seen a story so much I've been sick of it. I'm there right now with one I'm working on, but it has to be done, so I'm sticking with it. I can see the difference in my writing from a year ago and it has really improved, thank God. I think the more I improve, the better my first drafts have become.

I don't make lists either. I usually fix things on the spot. If I find something that's not working. Unless it's a major cut/add, that would be the only time I would come back to it later. I find that if I don't fix it then, I never will.

Great post! Very interesting read.

Carrie said...

Hi Kate,

I'm one of those who might not write for months, but when I do, its a ton of pages at once. Yes, I do go through my stories from page one to make sure that hook is still in the right spot.

Sometimes, I find that the way I began a story doesn't quite work with the what it developed into and needs to be changed. I save what I cut/don't use just in case it comes in handy someplace else in the book. Sometimes, I find that the opening just doesn't grab me, and then I definitely rewrite/revise it.

As for when it's done. Couldn't really say. For me, it always depends upon the characters, what they tell me and when they say it's done.

As a writer and a somewhat perfectionist, I want to have the best writing I can produce out there, so I'll do my best even if that means multiple editing. Sometimes, though, the editing process can be used to hide behind rather than admit to that fear of, "Will my story be liked?"

What you need to do is use your critique groups to tell you if what you're doing is hurting or helping the story. Sometimes too much editing can hurt the overall story but other times it vastly improves it.

Hope this helps, even if it is just a little.


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott/Kate Davison said...

What really concerns me more than anything is when a story goes afoul of where you wanted it, and not in a good way. I had that happen with a sequel I'm currently working on. I kept writing anyhow, but decided because I'd made that really wrong turn, I had completely lost my drive to write the story. So, I deleted the scenes, stored them in a separate file, and tweaked what I kept at the point where things went to hell. I'm much happier about it, and can't wait to work on it again.

Thanks for your comments!! I had begun to think no one was reading my posts there for a while. I was kind of bumming.


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