We’re stepping away from the business of reading today to talk about the business of writing–or, in this case, editing. At what point is your manuscript ready to submit? As writers we talk a lot about “polishing” our manuscripts. We take courses on editing and revision. We read books on honing our craft. We solicit input from crit partners, beta readers, other authors. We learn all those darn “RULES.”
What we don’t hear enough about is when to stop–and that there is a point at which we have gone too far.
Agent Marlene Stringer joins us today to discuss the “overdone” manuscript. If you have questions for Marlene, please put them in the comments section and I will post the answers next week (I promise!).
Nothing frustrates me more than to request a project from an author based on a fantastic query only to have the actual pages disappoint. With so many resources available on the Internet and elsewhere, a healthy number of new writers are honing their query skills and creating really strong queries. If only the wonderful query always guaranteed a terrific read.
There are a few reasons for this dichotomy. Sometimes, an author queries as soon as he or she finishes writing a novel, without giving it time to rest, get feedback, and revise. It may be that a clever query conceals a “same-old, same-old” story, bringing nothing new to the table. Sometimes, it’s a lack of craft. Sometimes, it’s a lack of storytelling.
I’ve seen all of these, and some are fixable. However, the one that saddens me most is also the one that reflects the most work on a novel: the over-polishing to a point where there is no voice left whatsoever. The story is there, but it is sterile and flat. It is written in monotone, with the same emotional impact as reading directions. In a quest to get it right, the writer goes over the edge and eviscerates the writing.
A writer seeking publication cannot write in a vacuum. Feedback is essential, but it needs to be educated feedback. Taking advice from the wrong source can hurt a lot more than it helps.
And the hardest part: each writer has to learn when it’s time to step away and let the work go. Nothing is ever perfect, but it’s impossible to fix what isn’t there.
It’s a tricky thing, editing. Writing rules are good, but they aren’t gospel. Sometimes, an inactive verb works better. Sometimes, fragments help give voice and tone. Voice is a nebulous-enough thing for writers to grasp. Scary to think we can work so hard that we lose it!
For me, a good yardstick to know it’s time to step away is when I’ve reached the point in my editing where I’m no longer looking at whether a scene advances the story but instead I’m tweaking words, looking at comma placement, second-guessing things I originally thought worked just fine.
Any of you ever have the “overpolishing” problem? How do you recognize when to let your manuscript go? Readers: do your favorite authors have a recognizable “voice” to their work–you always know it’s theirs? What do you like about their writing?