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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

I emailed my crit partner in a dither this weekend. The angst-ridden missive was all about editing. Was I doing it right? Did the book suck? What was I going to do???

And my ever patient crit partner wrote back to ask what I'd done. Was the story good? What was I changing?

Then my crit partner said, "You're rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

It's true. There comes a time when editing is no longer productive. Where an author finds themself changing the wording back and forth without ever changing to story. Times when the editing has become a form of procrastination.

Is the manuscript perfect? That's the wrong question. A manuscript will never be flawless in the author's eyes. And the chances that a typo slipped while you changed that one paragraph fifteen times are high. But editing has to come to an end.

I'm still not sure I've figured out when a manuscript is flawless. And I still think it's easier to tell with shorter stories. Novels are wily beasts, novellas more manageable, and short stories are sweet lambs when it comes to editing. Although I might be biased because I rarely write (or edit) short stories and I've edited more novellas than novels.

So, writers, how do you know a manuscript is done? What's your indicator that lets you know it's time to kick the baby out the door to sink or swim?


  1. Wow...that's very true and great advice! I need to stop 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic', haha. At last I have a deadline so I can't continue editing forever. But it's nice to know all those deck chairs don't NEED to be rearranged, because I wouldn't have time to rearrange them all if I wanted to. ;)

    -Melody J.


  2. Well, I'm not sure I know the answer to that question.
    When I write short stories, I seldom do more than three drafts. That's alwyas been enough to make me satisfied with the result. And I've always thought, I don't need more than that, or I'll just ruin the story.

    But now, for the first time, I'm working on a novel and I'm not done yet, although I've already gone through three complete rewrite.
    But I don't think I'm done yet because I'm still changing essential things. I'm happy with the structure now, I'm not changing the structure anymore, but I'm still doing a lot of actual rewrite to even out different connections.
    I think, when you still rewriting so much material, it isn't time to let it go yet ;-)

    But hey, I'm still learning.