Feb 1, 2012

IWSG - Practice Makes Perfect - But When

I started playing the piano when I was four.  My mom didn't really want me to start then, but her mom taught me some and she realized there was no going back.

There are some great life lessons that I learned as a musician - technique, scales really do matter even if they are boring, the fingering written in the music is for my benefit, etc.  And lots of these are translating over to writing very well - dedicated practicing every day is the only way to improve, people who offer critiques are doing it for my benefit, pay attention to those who have had success.

But the difference between music and writing is that I don't have anything to compare it to.  Granted, when Beethoven or Chopin or Rachmaninoff were composing, they may have had the same doubts that I do (okay, I really hope they did).  But I can listen to professional recordings of these masterpieces and know how far my performance is off from where I want it to be.

I just finished my first chapter revision and *I think* I have it where it needs to be.  But how can I be sure?  Who's to say in a day or two I won't find other things to fix?  Or that when my CP's read it, they won't wonder about some things, have suggestions for what I need to do to fix it, etc.  How much time and effort do I need to put into an image, a sentence, a character's development before I know I've nailed it.

How do you know when your work is done?  What are techniques you have implemented to know when to step away?

39 comments :

Tara Tyler said...

i can totally relate and asked this same thing a while back. we think we're done, then get suggestions from cp's and betas...and we read it again and see things to tweak ourselves.

i am feeling close to done with my 4th edit. its moving fast. i have another cp xch coming up. i'll be done when i read through with minimal corrections or when i'm sick of it, whichever comes first!

Rosalyn said...

I wish I knew! I'm on my fifth revision now (for the whole thing), and my first chapter has gone through probably 10-15 revisions (I've lost count). Outside opinions help.

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

yes! CP's are a necessity! because the thing is you are way too close to the source of the noise to distinguish whether the piano you're playing balances with the trap set and the trumpets and the singer. that's why you have the CP's. they are your master directors helping you tell how the sound relates out there. and even yet, perception is very subjective. one director may say, a little louder please, and another may say the balance is just right...
but it you try to weigh the opinions as objectively as you can- then wait a little while before studying the audio recording, you'll be able to better gauge your novel.
then it's promotion to a bigger band, with pickier directors. eeks! lather, rinse, repeat.

J. A. Bennett said...

I've been struggling with this same thing. I've been working through my MS and then getting critique's back on pervious chapters. Every time I got a critique back I would stop editing. I figured out that my mind was in a different part of the book and just like writing. I should go through and edit the whole thing before I use those critiques. I'm still looking at the critiques and considering the comments as I move forward, but I can't dwell on Chapter 1 when I'm living in Chapter 10. Make sense? hope that helped :)

S.P. Bowers said...

Yikes, I'm there too. I go back and forth between thinking it's done and wanting to change every horrible word. I've completely lost perspective. That's how I know it's time to send it to betas. They'll see it with fresh eyes and I'll get some time away to help get new perspective. After those rewrites I'll just have to make a choice and go with it.

Cherie Reich said...

Personally, I know when the work is as done as I can make it at the moment when I'm only changing a word or sentence here and there. Of course, people say nothing is done until it is published, and even that is being reconsidered nowadays.

Michelle Gregory said...

i think you make it as good as it can be, yet balance that with having a life and needing to move on. no story will be perfect, and as my husband tells me, "the enemy of good is better." sometimes you just have to walk away.

Shelley Sly said...

I think it's subjective. There isn't one set rule that works for everybody. Personally, I do two rounds of editing myself, then send it to 3-4 people to read it and give me feedback, make changes based on what they suggested, and then do yet another round of self-editing. I like to know that I did all that I could to improve my MS.

I just found your blog through a friend's and am now a follower. :) Glad I found ya.

Metz said...

I think as a writer, you'll probably never feel like your work is truly done. You have to just trust yourself to let it go when it feels right. To me, a big test is whether or not the plot, character and structure of the book aren't fundamentally broken. If I feel like the core structure is solid, then I force myself to tighten up a few sentences here and there and then shut the book and allow a beta-reader to give me some honest, reliable feedback.

Great blog. I'm excited to follow your work.

RachelMaryBean said...

I have no idea, really. With my novel I find new things to change every time I look at it. With my PB, I decided I was done when the things I was changing were then being changed back. I could torture it to death, or I could decide it was as good as I could make it.

Sheila Siler said...

What a great question! I don't know the answer, but I look forward to finding out.

Angela Cothran said...

Is "when you are sick of it" a good answer? Probably not :)

acertainbook said...

This rings a bell for me too! Only you will know when it's complete or when to stop the feedback. Feedback is great but sometimes too much can throw you out. Great post!

Anne K. Albert said...

I can always find a word to change, and do multiple edits until my eyes bleed.

When is a story done? IMHO, never. An author just does her best at this point in her career, and then moves on to the next. It's a life long process to reach that illusion of perfection.

Jess said...

Stopping by from IWSG, nice to meet you!

I play violin, so I get it. As a musician/writer, I have a lot of insecurities, because I know how the songs are supposed to sound. And I know that what I play is... different. lol.

But things can never be perfect, and we shouldn't expect them to be. Of course, that doesn't mean we should't strive for perfection :)

Cassie Mae said...

Still trying to figure this one out myself, but I think as writer's we'll never feel that it's perfect. I know if I ever get to see my work in book form, I'll be tempted to comb it over with a red pen!

I think it's just when you feel it's ready to send out. I know that's the most over-used and lame answer ever, but true :)

M.J. Fifield said...

Oh, how I wish I knew the answer to your question because I ask myself that same thing every single day.

If you get it figured out, let me know, won't you? =)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

After I've revised and revised and my critique partners have read it and made suggestions and I've revised some more - and then I realize I'm changing sentences and scenes back to what they were in the first draft - then I know I'm done!

Jessica Salyer said...

I think that you'll know when it feels right to you. (I hope, I'm not that far in the process) People can always find something wrong with any work.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I also started playing the piano at four, went to proper lessons and passed many examinations. I think you could say Music was my first love.
As I didn't start writing until I was widowed nearly 14 years ago I suppose I write when something exciting happens or when I get upset, with poetry one writes as the urge takes me.
Loved the post.

Yvonne.

Cate Masters said...

Revision can be an endless process, but at some point, you do have to walk away. 'Trust your gut' is my mantra. (After your crit partners have thoroughly gone over the story. :) )

Brinda said...

Sometimes you can edit and revise your voice right out of the piece, so it is difficult to know when to stop.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I can always find something to add to a WIP. I now have a separate folder on my laptop called 'Completed' - once it goes in, I try not to tinker anymore.

I've been on another blog this evening where I confessed to rewriting a short story I'd had published, just because I KNEW it could be better. I've stopped myself from doing that again!

Beth said...

In my opinion it's never done!!! Ahh!!! That's the scary thing about writing. But a respected author spoke to my local RWA group and said to have a deadline. Be done with it on the deadline, because you could perfect it forever. Hope that helps. Thanks for checking out my blog following you back ;)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I wish I knew the answer to that, Tasha! It seems to me it's never done. I have books that are published and when I read them to kids I think, darn, I should have said that a little differently! I think you just have to tell the best story you can tell the best you can do it now and recognize that you can always find SOMEthing to tweak and polish, but your readers won't know the difference!

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Tasha!

Thanks for the follow and I've done the same:)

Honestly, I am *still* editing (in my head) news reports and features I wrote five, six years ago... I don't think we evah stop wanting to change just. one. more. word, but sometimes we need the Word Police to raid our homes and tell us to "Step Away From The Computer..." :)

Morgan said...

Ohhhh... I SO relate to this! My whole life, I've excelled at pretty much anything I've set my mind to (not saying this in a cocky way, just being blunt, lol)

And it's been a real eye opener trying to dive into this writing world. With my first querying round, I honestly thought I'd nail and agent and move onto the next step easily. Wrong. I *thought* my work was done. It wasn't. I'm glad I've learned this lesson the hard way though. I'm grateful for rejection. And my first querying experience has taught me now to make sure my work is really ready before I query again. *crosses fingers* ;)

Great post! And new follower!

Emily R. King said...

Oh my gosh, you've spoken my inner fears. I don't ever know when I'm "done." I just get sick of working on the same thing over and over, then send it to someone to read because I've lost my objectivity. I hate to rely on other people's opinions, but if a reader says it's good, then I just might be done!

Callie Leuck said...

I LOVE the composer comparison. I can just imagine Mozart or Beethoven stomping around pulling on their hair, shouting "THIS IS CRAP! IT'S ALL SHIT!"

So far, I have no idea when something is done. In my professional life, it's when the deadline hits at which point you give it a last hasty polish and send it off. In my creative writing life, I've yet to send anything to an agent or publisher, so I have no idea at what point something is considered "done."

Jessie Humphries said...

Shoot, I posted about this last week! I have no flippin clue. I just know I am not there yet.

Jeremy Bates said...

i find i always have things to fix, even though one day i thinks its all right......... theres just a point when u have to say enough! its ok lol

Jen Chandler said...

Hello Tasha! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and following :D I'm a new follower here as well!

The only way I can know if my work is truly done is if I KNOW that I've done everything I can do to make it perfect. I know I'm not perfect, and I know that the story will need some editing, tweaking the further down the publishing trail it goes. But if I'd done everything I can possibly do to secure that it is the best story I can write, then I know I've done my job.

Happy Writing!
Jen

C.M.Brown said...

Reading all the above comments, I must agree with the majority. I think all writer's edit and re-edit until our fingers are numb and our eyes are bleeding, but hey, at some point you just have to make the decision to stop and send it in!
Good luck!
Carolyn

Eve.E said...

There has to be limits and I personally think usually deep down you know when enough is enough and when to continue. I know I do x

Christa said...

Ooh...this is a good question. For me, I never feel really "done" because I always can find something to fix. This is why my CPs are invaluable.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm very bad at deciding when to stop "tinkering" with a ms. When I pick up one of my books off the shelf, I have to keep the red pen in my bag or I'll find myself thinking about changing a sentence or a word. Too late! my head screams. This one is between the covers.

Thanks for stopping in at the Write Game and saying hi. Hope to see you as we go through this Insecure Hop.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Tasha:
Critique is such a valuable thing and yet so subjective. I've been in critique for 19 years. I can safely say, that after submitting my first book multiple times and editing it, there comes a time when you have to say, I'm done. Nevertheless, don't skip a professional editor. It will make the difference in whether your book is accepted, wins a contest, or if you decide to self-publish. I used to be told this and always had the same response. I don't have the money. But there are editors who will work with you in your budget. Mine allows payments over time.
Nice to meet you.
Nancy

Misha Gericke said...

I think there has to be a point where you think you mustn't go on. If you over-edit, you'll take the soul out, so just be careful about editing that piece further. Unless it's grammar and stuff like that.

Angeline said...

You'll always find things to change. Even the biggest writers in the world still find little niggles in their published books. You're too close to the project. The key is to have some critique partners you trust and respect. They'll let you know when it's ready.