Knowing When to Stop

Revisions and editing must end sometime


There are many parts of the creative process when we have to come to the point of Enough. Or Done. The point at which there is no quarter for yet another tweak. It may be resisting the urge to add an epilogue or coda. It may be when you say to yourself: “Sometimes simpler and more straightforward is better.”

I was thinking about this after my music theory lesson last night. My teacher was criticizing the beginning of the soprano solo in part of my requiem for repeating Mi-Re-Do in one key, and then modulating up one key and doing Mi-Re-Do again in the next measure. He called it overly simple. Even cliche.

My teacher tends to filter all of his feedback to me through what he would do instead, so I have to take that into consideration. I believe it’s bold to start a solo very simply before it dives into coloratura; it’s like a diving board in aquatics. His truly useful comments are kind of said under his breath, as though it weren’t that important, because it was so obvious to him.

And we all carry around with us an “inner” teacher or tutor modeled on one or more instructors we’ve actually encountered often. They are the little devil on our shoulder often, the one who says something we’ve created is too out-there, and we need to reign it in. They are also the little angel on the other shoulder, urging us to keep improving–even past the point of seriously diminishing returns.

I will make any number of other changes my teacher suggested last night, but the soprano solo stays as is. Any further changes to it would run the risk of a conflict between my sense of it from two very different perspectives, so that even a small tweak might suddenly change the sense of the whole.

And that’s something I think about in editing my writing too. Small tweaks like punctuation and spelling don’t often factor in, but once you add or delete phrases, the complexity of a story feels more like carving out pumpkin innards. There are all these seeds and strands connected to each other unless I scrape it down to nothing: That is, I start over and rewrite a whole chapter or section.

I also have a revise-and-resubmit offer mouldering in my inbox for the past seven months. All the revisions the editor suggested are useful and could improve the novel, but I am waiting for an offer elsewhere from an editor who loves it so much, they want to sign it before the revisions are made.

So I focus on other things and don’t start another round of revisions yet. For now, I’m done.

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