Thursday, May 10, 2012
How much and for how long do you self-edit? When do you share it with editors? How do you know it's done?
Somehow you slipped three questions in under the guise of asking one. Very sneaky of you. Let’s give it a shot.
First of all, I self-edit a lot.
Sometimes people ask me how many drafts or revisions I go through and for a while I told them, “Maybe a hundred or so.” They would scoff and I would feel a little weird—like I was probably using too much hyperbole just to get my point across.
At last I decided I wanted to be able to answer the question honestly, so while I was working on my forthcoming novel Placebo, I kept track of how many times I read through the prologue and changed something in it—even if it was only one word. I stopped counting when I hit fifty revisions. So, with no exaggeration, I can tell you that by the time I’m finished with a novel I’ve gone through and edited the entire thing dozens of times.
As far as feedback, I’ll ask for it only at certain times during the development of a story. Early on, I might have someone read it and I’ll say, “Be gentle. I know it’s not done, just tell me the stuff you like.” Then after the story begins to take shape, I may have plot questions or specific areas that I know are weak and I’ll ask readers or an editor for suggestions to work through that part of the narrative.
If you ask for critique too early on you can smother the idea before it’s had a chance to really breathe, and if you ask too late it won’t do any good because the story will be full-grown by then and it’s not going to change much anyway.
Finally, I know a story is done when I can’t improve it anymore. It’s as simple as that. If I find things in it that I can fix, tweak, hone, etc, then I know it’s not done yet. When I read through the entire book and I can’t find a single word or punctuation mark that I think could or should be changed, then the book is finished.