Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Enough is Enough

I'm a list girl. I love being able to check something off my list, marking it as DONE.

Something I asked a lot as I wrote my first couple manuscripts was, "When do I get to be done?" Because the process can feel never ending, can't it? Especially when you're constantly growing as a writer, learning new techniques and rules.

For me, being done has sometimes been as simple as saying, "This is the best I can do at this time and place. That will have to be good enough." Several of my early manuscripts fall into that category still. I took them as far as I could at the time, started on new projects, and they're still sitting around waiting for me to clean them up.

If you're not writing stuff that's publishable yet, don't despair. You're learning every time you sit down to write. There's nothing wrong with this being a process. Nobody is perfect at their profession fresh out of the gate, right? My husband is a mechanical engineer. He spent 4 years getting his undergrad, 2 years getting his masters, and there was still a lot to learn when he started working. Why should writing be any different?

Here's what my process looks like from conception to completion:

1. I come up with an idea big enough for a novel. I talk about it with my crit girl, Roseanna. Sometimes she offers suggestions, and sometimes she says, "Sounds great. Can't wait to read it."

2. I write a sucky first draft.

3. I revise and make it less sucky.

4. I revise again and make it good enough that I won't feel embarrassed to have Roseanna (and often my husband) read it.

5. Roseanna reads it wickedly fast and offers her feedback.

6. I input all her feedback, write scenes she suggests, etc.

7. I go through the manuscript one more time and give it a good polish.

8. It gets sent to my editor. She makes suggestions, and I input those.

9. It goes to a copy editor. She checks for continuity/typos/etc. I make all those changes.

10. My publishing house mails me a hard copy of typeset proofs. I'm only allowed to change stuff that HAS to be changed at this point. (Like typos or major errors.) I read through the manuscript and make necessary changes.

11. Then, because I'm paranoid, I do one last read through. I send my copy editor the list of changes I made and declare the manuscript, "DONE."

And, no, I never read my books in book form. I'm terrified I'll find a typo and won't be able to change it.

How about you? When do you decide you've done enough editing?

Have a writing question? E-mail me.


  1. This is definitely one of those 'things' about being a writer, isn't it?

    A quick story--there's a best-selling ABA (mainstream) author who was first pubbed back in the 80s, I believe. Worked her way up, gained that best-seller status . . . and then rewrote and released some of her earlier books because, "I love the story, but I cringe at how I'd written it."

    Even successful, award-winner, million-making authors can't stand the books that first made them sometimes. =) Definitely a growing process.

  2. Lol, I don't edit... very much anyway. I'm trying to get into the habit haha! In fact I'm getting my first real taste of editing my good sized whopping 300-400 page manuscript that I finished back in 2007-2008! (Now that's a big number for me, before that it was 110 pages or less and even anything above 70 to 90 pages was rare, big improvement lol)
    But this should be fun going back and re-reading it... my writing skills at that time are not so good... I'm embarrassed to read it even myself lol.

  3. Thank you for the encouragement. I am a list girl as well. Knowing that every time I write, I learn and get better, that that's okay is what I needed to hear today. Thank you. Reminds me of the quotes: If at first you don’t succeed, you’re going about average. - Leonard Louis Levinson
    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. - Samuel Beckett

  4. Roseanna, I'm so glad you shared that! I think lots of published authors experience that.

    Jazmine, that's a big manuscript! Editing used to really overwhelm me, but now it's my favorite part of hte process.

    Rachelle, what great quotes for writers. Thank you for sharing.