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Old 08-23-2012, 11:47 PM   #1
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Overworking vs Getting it right

I recently re-read "On Writing" by Stephen King and this time better took in the advice he was given on one of his rejection slips: second draft = first draft - 10%.

I took this advice, along with my some of the comments from my appraisal (to the effect that I am too comprehensive and tell a lot that the reader doesn't need to read), and went over the manuscript for my first novel yet again. I was quite surprised to see that 10% dropped out of it almost without trying. Lots of lead-in and tail-off parts to scenes that didn't need to be there, and places where I effectively repeat myself. Some of this, I now see, is me having to learn to trust the reader more than I have been. So this much, at least, felt sort of reassuring. But...

This latest reworking felt different to me somehow; I felt more disconnected from the work (despite the fact that other editing passes have also taken place with months between them). I'm really not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, and it's hard to get a feel for whether the book is better for these latest changes or not. Thankfully a couple of my beta-readers are happy to re-read it, so I am hoping to get some feedback from them.

This is a long-winded way of opening a discussion about how much reworking of your manuscripts you tend to do, and whether you think there is such a thing as overworking the manuscript - and, if so, how do you tell when you have reached that point?
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Old 08-24-2012, 01:08 AM   #2
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This is a long-winded way of opening a discussion about how much reworking of your manuscripts you tend to do, and whether you think there is such a thing as overworking the manuscript - and, if so, how do you tell when you have reached that point?
Anything can be overdone. Would you like to spend the rest of your life working on one novel? There are too many examples of perfectionists who continue to whittle a perfectly fine piece until they have nothing but sawdust.

You have several options:
Work on it until you're reasonably happy with it.
Work on it until you're sick of it.
Work on it until you decide that you should scrap it.
Find someone you can trust to make the decision for you.
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Old 08-24-2012, 09:40 PM   #3
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Anything can be overdone. Would you like to spend the rest of your life working on one novel? There are too many examples of perfectionists who continue to whittle a perfectly fine piece until they have nothing but sawdust. [...]
Can you actually offer such examples? (Rhetorical question. Obviously you can't give examples because the work was whittled away and no one will ever know whether it was ever worth anything in the first place.) Yes I've heard talk of people that fiddle with a novel for large parts of their life and never publish, but I don't actually know any. If such do in reality exist, whether they turn out to be perfectionists, or "procrastonists" (people that never work up the courage to publish - I better be careful or I may turn out to be one of them), is more difficult to guess.

It's not too hard to come up with examples of novels that could have done with more work (curiously enough some of the examples I would give are some famous authors whose editors appear to let their later books get away with more than they should). There are also some examples of great books that were developed over very long periods (eg. "Lord of the Rings" was ostensibly written over 12 years but when you look at the background work involved you might say it was more like 40+ years).

But I find it difficult to come up with examples of books that I can say were overworked (rather than just naturally boring or whatever). This isn't proof that they don't exist, or even that I haven't read them, only that I find them difficult to identify as specifically overworked.
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Old 08-25-2012, 05:03 AM   #4
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I have worked and reworked my memoir for over 15 years.

Is that excessive? Hell yeah.
Is that obsessive? Hell yeah.
Is that enough? Hell no.
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Old 08-25-2012, 07:12 AM   #5
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GMW - it is an untestable, unprovable axiom. The closest you could come would by invoking the law of diminishing returns, but even that would only fit loosely.
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Old 08-25-2012, 07:13 AM   #6
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I have worked and reworked my memoir for over 15 years.

Is that excessive? Hell yeah.
Is that obsessive? Hell yeah.
Is that enough? Hell no.

Well assuming you are still alive, you can never really complete it, right?
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Old 08-25-2012, 04:35 PM   #7
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But I find it difficult to come up with examples of books that I can say were overworked (rather than just naturally boring or whatever). This isn't proof that they don't exist, or even that I haven't read them, only that I find them difficult to identify as specifically overworked.
How could you tell without seeing the previous iterations? Probably the easiest place to see it is to look at a succession of photos of someone who has had way too much plastic surgery.

"She's gorgeous!"
"She looks pretty good."
"What happened to her?"
"What the hell...?!"
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Old 08-25-2012, 04:50 PM   #8
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How could you tell without seeing the previous iterations? Probably the easiest place to see it is to look at a succession of photos of someone who has had way too much plastic surgery.

"She's gorgeous!"
"She looks pretty good."
"What happened to her?"
"What the hell...?!"
Does not really apply because unlike plastic surgery, you have the ability to edit with no limits on time or revision count. Plus the is no requirement that ties you to the original. My first book as a human male as the lead, I could revise it once and make him a female. Then revise it again and make her a hermaphrodite. Or a dinosaur, or eliminate the character completely. Since there is no restriction on what you can do with a story, there is no limit to the number of revisions and one more revision always has the chance to make it better.
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Old 08-25-2012, 07:57 PM   #9
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Does not really apply because unlike plastic surgery, you have the ability to edit with no limits on time or revision count. Plus the is no requirement that ties you to the original. My first book as a human male as the lead, I could revise it once and make him a female. Then revise it again and make her a hermaphrodite. Or a dinosaur, or eliminate the character completely. Since there is no restriction on what you can do with a story, there is no limit to the number of revisions and one more revision always has the chance to make it better.
And one more revision always has the chance to make it worse. And death puts limits on everyone (often much sooner than expected).

Anyone who wants to be published must, at some point, publish.
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Old 08-25-2012, 09:06 PM   #10
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Anyone who wants to be published must, at some point, publish.

Correct. At some point you have to say "enough" and release it. I think the OP question was, how do you know when to say "enough"?
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Old 08-25-2012, 10:36 PM   #11
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Correct. At some point you have to say "enough" and release it. I think the OP question was, how do you know when to say "enough"?
Enough?

When they pry my wireless laser mouse from my stiff lifeless fingers.

That will be enough!
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Old 08-25-2012, 11:06 PM   #12
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Correct. At some point you have to say "enough" and release it. I think the OP question was, how do you know when to say "enough"?
I don't think that there is a real answer. It's always going to be a risk.
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Old 08-26-2012, 08:49 AM   #13
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Correct. At some point you have to say "enough" and release it. I think the OP question was, how do you know when to say "enough"?
Pretty close. I accept that there can be no hard or fast rules here, but I was curious to know whether any other writers here had their methods of deciding when to call it a day on a manuscript. Do you treat every manuscript separately, or do you have a set procedure that every manuscript goes through?

At the moment I'm very much treating each new manuscript separately. I was wondering if this changed for people as they gained more experience. Just curious.
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Old 08-26-2012, 02:21 PM   #14
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For me its a bit different because I write iteratively. By that I mean, I write some, I edit some, then write some more, then edit some more, then writes some more, then edit some more... and so on. And by edit I mean the full spectrum. For example, on my last pass through my current work I dropped an entire sub plot(along with some characters), added some material, and rearranged some chapters. A prior pass I removed 15k words worth of materiel (about 50%). So by the time I reach "the end" of my book, I have already accomplished around 90% of the editing I can do.

After that I pass it to my wife who will do 3-4 pass through the book (she does a pass, then I review, then she does a pass, etc).

Once that is done, I pass it to my professional editor. Then I do what she tells me to do. After that I do one last pass to make sure nothing got lost in translation, and usually put a bow on it and call it done.


Is it really done? Probably not, but at some point you say "time to write book five!" and move on. Someone once said "books are never completed, they are abandoned" and there is some truth in that I think.
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Old 08-26-2012, 08:07 PM   #15
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For me its a bit different because I write iteratively. By that I mean, I write some, I edit some, [...]
This is how I work too. I have read lots of advice (blogs/columns etc. Dear Abby for writers ) that suggest a writer should barge forward and only come back later, but I don't seem to be able to work like that. Other advice suggests putting the first completed draft up for a number of months and coming back, which I have been doing and it does change the perspective a little: paragraphs and dialogue that seemed so important before but now seem to get in the way, and things like that.
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