The Revision Process and Knowing When Your Work is Done
by Willy Doehring, River co-editor
The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.
For many writers (myself included), one of the hardest steps in the writing process is knowing when to stop writing. It sounds strange, of course, but when you spend hours each day drafting and re-drafting a story or poem or any of piece of writing it can be hard to know when enough is enough. For this reason, the focus of this blog post will be simple: how do you figure out when your piece is done?
The first step to even being able to ask yourself this question, of course, is the process of revising your piece. It is through revision that we as writers learn what the writing really wants to be, the journey from first draft to finished piece. Like the writing process, everyone’s revision process is different; that said, there are several steps a writer can take to make sure that they get the most of their work:
- Have others read your work! Feedback from other trusted writers and readers is essential to the revision process; after all, you’re usually writing to have your work read, right? This kind of feedback can come from a workshop environment if you have access to one, but it can also come from a friend, your significant other, or a fellow writer that knows you and your work well. Having readers who are dedicated to helping you improve your writing provides an excellent source of feedback as well as someone to bounce ideas off of- even just thinking about your writing out loud can be one of the best ways to get ideas flowing!
- Read your work aloud to yourself. You can also read your work to your peers if they’re willing to listen, but the important part of this is reading your own words out loud to see how everything flows. This is something that I struggled with a lot for years because I hated reading my own work aloud, you pick up on a lot when you hear the words that you might have missed while proof-reading quietly to yourself.
- Don’t get over-attached to your piece. When we begin writing a first draft, we have an idea that we want to put onto the page. Somewhere in the process of revision, however, our writing often goes in directions that we weren’t expecting or intending it to go. There’s nothing wrong with working towards the original vision that you had when you started writing, but its also important to remain flexible and open to new possibilities; oftentimes, removing that scene or sentence that you were so attached to can be the breakthrough that you were waiting for.
- Don’t rush the process, and don’t get discouraged. We’ll come back to this, but don’t be disheartened if the piece still isn’t feeling finished after multiple drafts. Every piece of writing is different— sometimes it only takes a few drafts, while other times it can take months. The important part is to take your time and staying engaged with the piece— it might take a long time, but its better than rushing through drafts.
Alright, so you’re deep in the revision process. How do you know when enough is enough? When is a piece done? For starters, if you’re sick of a piece, there’s a good chance its close to being done. Sometimes this can be hard (especially if you’re feel discouraged about the revision process), but if you spend weeks wondering what else you can revise to the point of not wanting to look at your piece, it may be time to move on. Of course, you don’t need to be sick of a piece for it to be done— you might also feel great about your piece and be ready to share it with the world!
Either way, after you feel like the piece might be ready and you’ve gone through the whole revision process one last time, find somebody who has never read your piece read it and tell you what they think. If the reader understands what you were going for on the first read, chances are other readers will as well! This is a nice final test to give you an idea of how readers coming across your piece for the first time will react.
Alright, so you’ve revised your piece until you can’t revise anymore and had trusted readers give you feedback. What now? Is there are magic last step that tells you your work is truly done? The short answer is no— really, the true last step to finishing a piece is consciously deciding to stop working on it. It can be hard after pouring so much time and effort into your work, but taking a break from thinking about the piece can tell you if you’re ready to call it done; if you can’t stop thinking of ways to improve the piece, chances are you might not be ready to let it go. Being able to comfortably separate yourself from your piece without feeling the need to go back and revise, on the other hand, is a sign that your work is done. Now all that’s left is to start searching for the best place to submit your newly finished piece. And take that break— you deserve it!
As always, the process of revising and figuring out when something is done is going to be different for everyone— but if you’ve struggled with it before, hopefully this will help you finish that journey of revision!
Until next time, happy writing!
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