16 Jan 2009

Revision: a vent

Last night, while revising my 2007 horror tale Manny Prior’s Halloween, it struck me that perhaps I am becoming obsessive about editing. I spent at least forty minutes on a single paragraph and ended up unconvinced I made any noticeable improvement. It’s very frustrating work. Time is short and I have many other projects I could be working on, including a novel that has lain stagnant for six months, and yet I end up endlessly circling the same group of sentences. Why? In this case it was tone. Many readers (and editors) probably wouldn’t even notice the effect of the changes I made, which begs the question: was it really worth it? Should I have stuck with a straight descriptive paragraph instead of trying to create a descriptive paragraph that also has a specific tone and intimates the narrator’s state of mind at a particular point in the story? In other words, should I have just moved on to free up time to work on something else? Compromise quality for quantity. The perfectionist in me screams, No! Faced with the choice, I’d opt for the former over the latter every time. But I wonder where other writers stand on this? How much editing is enough? Is it ever enough? Where do you draw the line? The easy answer is, of course, stop when it’s done. I don't believe it’s that simple.

Anyway, it’s lunchtime. Half an hour. Maybe if I skip lunch I can revise a sentence or two…


Ralph Robert Moore said...


I always enjoy stopping by your blog.

I know what you mean about editing. It's a bit like the Camus novel, I think it was The Plague, where one of the characters constantly revises an opening line. I tend to keep editing as well, because the horrible truth is, the text can always be improved (because a story probably does not have an ultimate, perfect text.) I've learned to stop once I'm reasonably satisfied. Otherwise, it's a bit like checking oneself in the mirror before going out, and then never going out because you want to check just one more time. But having said that, I do very much enjoy editing. The great thing about editing is, you're not dealing with a blank page.



Steven J. Dines said...

Well put. My current problem, I suppose, is that I rarely seem satisfied with my writing and so I sometimes edit ad nauseum. Impatience is what it is, really! You're right, though, it's about finding a point at which you're "reasonably satisfied."

Thanks for stopping by, Rob. You're welcome anytime.