Polish to make it shine … knowing when to stop

Hope everyone had a great weekend — we had and still have rain but I like it! And we need it 🙂

I will keep this brief but I was thinking about all my recent efforts with my new short story and the point in your writing at which you say, “Okay, enough tweaking.”

Of course with the novel it can seem endless and it needs many people’s input but even then there comes that point when you have to stop — can you polish too much? I’m not sure if I ever reached such a point but what I would say is if you keep tweaking it can get too pedantic and if you’re not careful you might lose voice or sometimes something was there as a foreshadow and removing it can affect the plot. So just make sure the changes are justified. I guess eventually you have polished to the best shine achievable so no amount of further shining will make any difference — if it’s pedantics, it’s time to stop. Can you be rejected for getting the minutiae wrong? Well I don’t think anyone’s going to reject a fabulous story because the commissioning editor thinks on-line 3 a semi colon would be better than a comma. But what I do think is you need every sentence and every word in every sentence to feel like it’s just the right one — nothing superfluous and nothing wasted. Don’t say it more than once, be concise. I am rather a slave driver to my own high standards but all I can say about that is 1. that’s me! And 2. it seems to be working so far!

Today publishers and agents are looking for work that’s as near as damn perfect so that editing does not involve huge rewrites and a ton of structural editing. They don’t have the time to invest in that — I guess if you’re an already signed successful writer who has a proven track record of pulling it out of the proverbial bag there might be exceptions — but as a new writer seeking an agent/publisher they want it to be as good as it can be. Seems obvious doesn’t it? But they get so many  submissions that don’t cut it. Which is why I go on and on about getting someone to look at your work — preferably professionally. Here comes the self-promo bit — check out my website! LINK

I seem to have spent close to  two weeks on my new short story and I reckon a few more days and I’ll be really happy. Some take less time but this one is 6000 words and had some complexities that I needed to simplify and get just right. As I edge closer to finishing (polishing) I find I spend a lot of time reading it out loud as this shows those snags, sentences with clunk and inconsistencies in voice. I urge everyone to read out loud.  I tend to do it in the latter stages.

And I hard copy proof about this time as well to capture anything I never saw before.

I picked up on some niggles about the plot and the climax (I knew were there the whole time) with this new one and realise what’s wrong now — I think. So my plan is to fix that.

So I guess I do have this need to make every sentence the right one and after several reading it out loud sessions can say I am as happy as I can possibly be before I submit. It doesn’t mean it gets accepted but it does mean it has the best chance.

I also see word counts with the short stories as a really important way to stay sharp. When I first wrote Chutney is was 6000 words and was not written for anything in particular. I then left it.  When I decided to enter it into the Commonwealth Short Story Prize it was 1000 words too long. I had been very happy with it and I didn’t want to chop just to enter it — in fact if I didn’t think I could lose that many words I would not have done it — I would’ve either not entered anything or looked for something else. But actually I found I could lose 1000 words without losing anything of the story — in fact it tightened even more. And I was thrilled when it was short listed in the Commonwealth!

So even when you think you’re done, you might not be. But keep it sharp and make everything feel like it’s just the right word in just the right place and the then you’ll know it’s ready. Easier said than done? You will develop this skill with practice and the more you get accepted the more validated you will feel.

Final piece of advice — don’t submit anything when you know it’s not quite right — you ran out of time being a  common excuse. A classic homework excuse, right? You might argue at least it’s been sent off and has a chance — let’s say a competition entry, and better to be in than not. But for me, I was the same at school, I HAVE to know it’s as good as I think it can be.

Dream it, Do it, Disney

Right — off to polish — make it shine people! Make it shine! Who needs the sun?


1 Comment

Filed under a book deal, Acceptance, Being a professional editor, being a successful writer, Believing, Blogging, Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013, Commonwealth Writers, Critique, Dreaming, Editing, Endings, Indentity, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Novel writing, Parthian Books, Passion for life, Plot, Publishing, Publishing Contracts, Voice, Winning, Writing

One response to “Polish to make it shine … knowing when to stop

  1. Very sound advice once again Debz. I always edit to my highest standard, and even now I could return to my first published novel and ‘improve’ it, but at some point we do have to say “enough” and send our masterpiece out into the world.

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