I am not sure I know any writers who live for editing and revising their work. It’s not that there isn’t a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained by polishing a scene or a section of dialogue, but it is a tedious process filled with a lot of rewriting and moving things around and slashing what you once thought were brilliant moments. You might, as I am doing with my current writing project, end up taking a completely different approach and focus to the general story. This makes for a good deal of extra work, which I hope will be worthwhile in the end. (I will say this: I’m quite pleased with my thesis at the moment.)
One of the textbooks for my thesis course is Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. I highly recommend this book! It’s a great resource, and it’s easy to absorb. In the mini-section “when am I finished rewriting?”, Mosley says:
Never. The novel never attains the level of perfection. No matter how much you rewrite and rewrite again, you will still find places in the book that don’t do exactly what you want. You will feel that some characters are hazy, and plot connections unsure. There’s a subplot that will seem to get lost and a fairly important character that will change but not as much as you might have wished.
This is true for writers in all forms. Books are not pristine mathematical equations. They are representative of humanity and are therefore flawed.
“So when will I know to stop rewriting?” you ask.
When you see the problems but, no matter how hard you try, you can’t improve on what you have. That’s it. You find yourself reading through the book for the twenty-fifth time, and as you see problems, you try to fix them, but the attempt only makes things worse….Then you know you’re finished.
Congratulations. You have a novel. This one is good. The next one will be better.
So there you have it.
For someone like me who is an admitted perfectionist, I felt so much relief reading this passage. Writing, like life, does not need to be perfect. Isn’t that great?