When Is Your Story Done?

by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

When Is Your Story Done?

How can you tell when it’s time to stop editing your work and start sending it out?

We’ve all been through that question. Sometimes every few days, sometimes every few books. But for just about any writer, there are times when it’s hard to know WHEN the work is ready to go.

It doesn’t matter whether this is your first manuscript or your fifty-first. It doesn’t matter whether the recipient is your first mentor or the agent of your dreams. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a contest entry, a novella, a full-length novel or a trilogy. At some point you have to decide:

Yep, this is ready to send.

And yet it’s so tempting to keep working. To keep tweaking that final scene. To keep revising the first-encounter dialogue. To keep switching the ellipses to dashes and back again. Revision can be downright addictive.

There are times, of course, when it’s absolutely necessary. After all, most addictive things DO start out fine. Nobody can argue that a celebratory brownie is a Bad Idea. But seven brownies for breakfast…not so good.

So how can you tell the difference between revisions that are making the work better and revisions that are a waste of time?

Let’s face it, sometimes declaring “all done” is a really tough decision. How do you know another pass won’t make it better? Even just a tiny bit better?

And what if that tiny bit makes all the difference?

It’s funny that we don’t usually go through that kind of angst when it comes to other “yep, I’m finished” decisions. Getting dressed in the morning, for instance — might those other shoes be better? Or, wait, what about this pair? And now that I look at it, this shirt might not be the best choice. Or should I adjust the collar? No, wait, these shoes still aren’t right…

We’ve all been through that, before some really important event where it’s absolutely crucial to look our best. Say, for instance, the high school prom. 🙂

Even those of us who only went with the nerdy brother of our sister’s date — um, yes, in fact, that WOULD be me — still remember the quest to look Totally Perfect.

But now, however-many years later, I look back on those weeks of getting ready for the prom and marvel at how much emotional energy I devoted to what was essentially a non-issue. I remember what I wore, sure, but not whether the selected shoes turned out to be the Very Best Choice or a Sad Second Best.

And you can tell where this is heading, right?

Someday you’ll look back on the work you’re reluctant to send, and marvel at what a big deal it seemed like at the time.

Because the thing is, fixing that one pesky phrase or one comma or one description or even one entire scene isn’t going to make the difference as to whether or not the recipient is thrilled with your work.

The overall book will make a difference, sure.

But how many revision passes can you DO on a book?




Four hundred?

At some point, revision becomes an excuse to avoid moving forward.

How do you know when you’re there?

A couple possibilities are when you discover that you’re:

  • Shifting things back and forth rather than making a change
  • Wondering why you ever liked this story in the first place
  • Unable to envision when this will be ready to send

If that happens, how do you get around it?

Well, maybe you don’t NEED to get around it. Maybe you’re just flat-out not ready to send this material, but you haven’t actually acknowledged that. If somebody’s pressuring you to get that work out into the world, but you don’t want to take such a step, it might seem easier to just keep revising than to declare “I don’t want to send this yet.”

But if you think it over and decide that yes, by golly, you DO want to send this — and that decision is coming from YOU and nobody else — then what do you do?

Tell yourself “this work is the best I’m capable of at this point in my life. Sure, a few years from now I’ll probably be even more skilled, but at this time I’ve done the very best job I can do.” And after that:

Give yourself a deadline.

Be specific: “This has to go out by September 16 [or whatever date seems reasonable], no matter what.”

Then see what happens. If you make the deadline, even if it’s a day or two late, you’re all set. If not, figure you’re just not ready — whether or not you’ve officially acknowledged that — and turn your attention to some other project. You can still keep writing without submitting, even if you’ve shoved this particular book under the bed.

But it’s more likely that answering the questions above and giving yourself a deadline will do the trick in terms of deciding when you’re finished with revisions.

Now, before you’re finished with revisions…

What do you need to address? There are 11 things to consider, some of which you’ve already handled beautifully because they’re your natural strong points and others of which might need some work.

Those are what we’ll talk about in “Revision Hel–No, Heaven” next month, and if at least 25 people answer the question below, one of ‘em will win the drawing for free registration to this class.

Which leads to our:

Prize-Drawing Question

What’s a revision item you always pay attention to? Something you know, right from the start, that will need to be addressed. Please share it down in the comments!

Note: It’s okay if your answer repeats what someone else has already said. It’s okay if your answer is something no one else has mentioned. We each need our own toolbox, and it’s always fascinating to see what various writers keep in theirs!

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About Laurie

After winning Romantic Times‘ “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing and revising…if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops on craft topics, like next month’s two-week email class, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular book in her classes. With 52 titles there so far, she’s always hoping for more.

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