When is The End The End?

July 14, 2016

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Editing. Hmm, the Marmite of writing tasks. But no matter how you feel about it, editing must be done. But how do you know when you’re done? When your work is really finished? How do you know when you can down your tools, sit back and breathe out? When ‘The End’ is well… most definitely ‘The End’?

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Needless to say, I am editing my novel currently, but not for the first time, nor, I suspect, for the last, because folks, I am an Eternal Editor. There, I’ve said it. I stood up tall, in the circle, my back nice and straight, and said the words out loud. You heard them. Yes, I acknowledged the truth. In so doing, have I taken the first step towards recovery? No! Alas, there is no twelve-step programme for this compulsion, because I suffer from a wholly debilitating and I fear, potentially incurable condition, called Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder. Yes, it’s a thing. And I have it.
It’s an affliction, a literary tick, borne I fear, from the fact that I am also a perfectionist. Either way, it’s encumbering and almost fatal to anything I write.
“You’ll never finish,” my friends and family cry.
“This book will never see the light of day!”
In my darkest moments, I suspect they might be right. But don’t they understand? I can’t let it go out yet. It’s simply not ready.
“It’ll never be ready!”
It will. I just… well, I don’t know quite yet when, but it will. I promise. One day.

Case in point – Despite finishing this novel several times over already, I’ve spent the last two weeks tweaking a single page. Yes, one page. But perhaps the most important page. Page One. I’ve worked on it every day of those two weeks, okay, not all day, but even so… I kept going, until I got it right.
Of course, I thought I had it right the first several times I finished it, but then the Eternal Editor saw the error of my ways. I got there in the end. I am finally pleased with it. But how many times have I written that page? Well, I’d rather not say. The point is, it’s there. Now. Finally. I think.
And yes, I know it’s probably not normal, but did I mention I’m an Eternal Editor? I know you can over work a piece but tell the EE that. You see, I can’t leave it alone, not until it’s right, not until I’ve… well, nailed it. But then again, that’s only in my opinion. And let’s be honest, this writing lark is so darn fickle, so darn subjective. Who knows if I’ve really nailed it? Who knows? But it’s so tough out there, especially for debut writers. With the stats so clearly against us, is it really so wrong to want to strive for perfection?
“Put it to one side! Move on and write something else!” they say. Are they crazy? I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t.
Editing, as an Eternal Editor, is a serious affair. Because, I don’t edit, I redraft, and rewrite – new scenes, new characters, new storylines, until essentially what emerges is arguably a new novel on some level, but it’s always so much better than the last. So, am I really so foolish to do so? In the lighter moments, I kid myself that this is healthy, that I’m learning my craft, but I’ve been doing this for a number of years now, and even I am beginning to think that it may finally be time to let it go.
This, must surely signify progress.
And the good news is – I am nearly there. I can feel it. And with that comes a sense of excitement, a huge and overwhelming anticipation. But alongside the elation, there is also consternation. The Eternal Editor whispers in my ear, “Really? Have you truly done all that you can? Are you absolutely sure that this is the very best that you can produce? How can you be so certain? Maybe one more fly past…”

‘At what point do you give up – decide enough is enough? There is only one answer really – Never.’

– From Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, YA Author

So when is it time to let go?

The bad news is that there is no definitive answer, but I did find this very useful article on writersrelief.com. It offers sage advice on how to make it over that elusive Finish Line. So this is for you, and Eternal Editors everywhere.

Reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, an American submission service for authors.

5 Steps To Stop Stalling And Start Making Submissions:

1. Let time pass. Finally! You’ve written the last word. Now, set your work aside. Turn your attention elsewhere—spend time outdoors, work on your hobbies, begin something new. After enough time has passed (whether it’s hours, days, or weeks) read your manuscript with fresh eyes. How do you feel about it now? Does the piece still ring true, or do you see where some revision will improve it?

2. Focus first on the big picture. When you’re ready to take that first fresh look, read the piece from beginning to end—without making any revisions! See the complete arc of the story you are trying to tell, and don’t get bogged down in nitty-gritty editing. Once you’ve seen the piece as a whole, you can go back section-by-section to make more-informed rewrites.

3. Proofread? Yes! Overly tinker with? No. Of course, your work should be meticulously proofread and formatted. After all your time and effort carefully writing and rewriting a piece, you don’t want to have a literary agent or editor reject it because of sloppy margins or blatant grammar gaffes. However, it’s also important not to overdo your editing. What started out as a great story or poem can be spoiled when you add or take away too much. When in doubt, let it be.

4. Get feedback. Still can’t decide if your manuscript is submission-worthy? Call in reinforcements. Ask the opinions of your writing group or critique group, friends, and mentor (if you have one). If the general consensus is that your writing is ready to be submitted—go for it!

5. Don’t flinch! Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci said it best: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” You may not feel 100% certain, but if all indications are that your work is ready to send out, don’t let “what ifs” hold you back. Take a deep breath, be brave, and make your submissions.

Every writer experiences that irresistible urge to edit and improve his or her work. This is a vital part of becoming a better writer! Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of insisting on absolute perfection and over-revising. Perfection is unattainable; chasing it will only leave you frustrated and unhappy. Instead, focus on creating the very best piece you can. After following these steps and making your revisions, you’ll develop a sense that your writing is done. And that’s how you’ll know—it’s time.

So there it is folks, and there’s no denying it’s good advice.
Cue sigh. Heavy sigh. Now, if only I could follow it…

The End… maybe, probably. No! Definitely. The End. Ta Dah!

Helen

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