“I never stop writing a book; I just stop typing it.”
― Attributed to Ernest Hemingway
Knowing when to stop is a very important part of writing. Stop typing, stop editing, stop fiddling. It’s probably true to say that no artist is ever completely satisfied with the work they have created. But there has to come a point where you lay down the brush or the chisel, or you step away from the keyboard. Your work may not be perfect, but it is as perfect as you can make it within the constraints you face; and one of those constraints is time. Life is short; art is long. You have to choose a stopping point.
The same is true of editing your work, whether that’s done by yourself or by someone else (it’s much better if it’s someone else who edits your work, trust me).
Daniel White, a friend of mine who is also a writer and magazine publisher wrote this to me in an email recently:
I’m reading Orson Scott Card’s collection, Maps in the Mirror. He says some authors think an editor should never touch their work. But like it or not, everything can always be improved. It’s more a question, when do you stop editing?
I don’t believe that any writer should think their work can’t be improved. No one is perfect.
I had my novel “The Fallen Sun” professionally edited, then did another pass through it before I sent it off for printing. Then I went through two printed proof copies and one online proof, and in each proof I still found mistakes and plot issues I just had to change. And that was after being certain, I had thought, that the manuscript I first sent off for printing was perfect. Um, I was wrong. And there are probably still issues in there.
But there does have to come a point where you have to let it go, to get it out there. It may feel like exposing your baby on a mountainside, but it has to be done. If your work is ever to be appreciated by others, it has to go out, to be seen or to be read.
Then you get to worry about what errors readers might find.
Ah well, in these days of print-on-demand and ebooks, there’s always another edition…
[Footnote to recipe for ‘Banananana Soup Surprise’]
“Nanny Ogg knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.”
― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad