I spend a lot of time revising. Over the years, I’ve become my own best editor, out of necessity. When you write as much as I do, you have to rely on yourself or have money to pay someone to read your work – asking my friends to constantly read my work becomes annoying for everyone involved.
If you want to be a serious writer, you have to learn how to be brutally honest with yourself. If something sucks, you need to be able to recognize that it sucks and admit to yourself that you need to change or discard it.
However, you also need to be forgiving. If something sucks, you can’t beat yourself up over it – you need to be able to reassure yourself that you can improve your writing through revision. That kind of confidence comes with experience; when you see that you actually CAN improve your writing, you will come to trust your ability as an editor.
The first part – being able to recognize when your writing sucks – is hard to do when you’re just starting out. If you’re a new writer, you will probably have a desire to hold onto everything you write. After many years, I have learned how to discard pages and pages of bad writing, without feeling any emotional attachment to it.
The trick is to not get emotionally attached to your writing. If you’re writing about something that affects you emotionally, you will probably have to wait to revise that piece of work until the feeling has passed. No way can you revise something with a clear head if you’re still attached to the subject of your work.
Also, realize that words are just words. Many have been written before you, and many will be written after you.
When you start to feel comfortable with the revision process, you will probably ask yourself, How do I know when I’m done? Beginning writers usually give up long before they’re done, simply because they’re sick of working on the piece. The truth is that, if you want to reach the point of “done”, you will probably have to work on a piece of writing beyond boredom and frustration. As with running, practicing revision will give you more stamina.
I’ve heard many writers admit that a piece of writing is never really done. Even after they have been published, years later, they will think of things they want to add or change in their books. I remember one writer admitting that she picks up a published copy of her book and sometimes makes notes in the margins, even though she knows she won’t ever be able to change it.
Once your book is published, you agree to send it off into the world, with all its imperfections intact. So, when does that point occur? If you’re “throwing in the towel”, your book is not done. If you’re just sick of looking at it, your book is not done. Your book is done when you realize that it could probably be better, beyond your abilities. You must feel that you have completely pushed your talent to an edge.
Maybe, in 10 years, you will have the experience and knowledge to improve what you need to improve, but would the same person be revising it? You need to finish a piece of writing in as close to a state of mind as you had possessed when you started it. And then push that version of you until you cannot push it any further. Then, your writing will be complete.
(Photo by jayneandd)