The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How Long Should We Re-Write?

Yesterday, I held my new book, Great Sky Woman, in my hands for the first time.  Book number twenty.  Something between two and three million words of published fiction.  Twenty-six years of being a professional writer.

The book is beautifully designed…I’m seriously proud of it.  Is it good?  Geeze…I don’t know.  I know I did the very best I could, pushed myself to the limit, researched more than I ever have…but doubts remain. They always do.  You see, there is a problem with re-writing.

The problem is this.  Imagine that you are polishing a ball bearing. Every time you finish a polish, you also increase the magnification of the lens you use to inspect it.  Every time you look through  the new lens, you see more imperfections and rough edges.  So you polish.  Then you increase the magnification again…

This is what happens as you re-write.  You become more and more sensitive to smaller and smaller problems, and if you aren’t careful, you can polish a book for years, and never be satisfied.  This has happened to many, many writers: they don’t realize that they have become sensitized to flaws so tiny that no reader would ever see it.

And as a result, they produce a fraction of the work they might otherwise have given the world. It’s sad.

How do we move past this?  You know something, I don’t have a solid answer for you.  Deadlines are useful, as are strong editors, who pry that manuscript out of your hands.  Absent these motivations, you have to create your own.  “By such-and-such a date, I will finish the project and send it out for sale and evaluation.”  That can work, as can recruiting a stable of good readers, or setting some arbitrary number of times a book or story can be re-written.

Other than that, you have to go by subjective impression. There’s nothing wrong with this…as long as you look back over your year and see that the work is actually getting finished.  If re-writing becomes an excuse for never finishing a project and moving on…it’s time to change the rules of engagement!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...