Revising Leah

January 21, 2009

How Can You Finish a Piece of Writing That Can Never Be Finished?

An update: Last week, I received the proof copy of Leah and I read through it, proofreading and making last minute corrections. I thought that I’d be able to submit the corrected manuscript back to Lulu on Sunday, thus beginning the final phase of this publishing process. However, Sunday evening, I was reading passages of my book at random (a couple pages here, a couple pages there), and stumbled upon a sentence in chapter eight in which I had accidentally italicized half of a sentence that should not have been italicized at all.

The discovery freaked me out because it was an error so glaringly obvious that I should have spotted it last week when I was reading through the novel. I started to wonder, then, Well if I missed that, what other errors have I missed?!

So I decided to delay submitting the supposedly “corrected” manuscript for a couple of days. Since Sunday, I’ve continued to just browse through the book randomly. I have spotted a few more errors, but they’ve all been very minor typos.

But Sunday’s freak-out has rekindled has my obsession with perfection and the idea that whatever I write and publish must be perfect, even though I fully realize that no piece of writing can ever be perfect — something can always be done to improve a written work. I have the urge to hold on to my book and not submit it until I have made every single change that I can. But I could work on my manuscript for another hundred years and it will still not be perfect.

I’ll keep browsing through the text this afternoon and this evening, but unless I find another startling error like I found on Sunday, I think I’ll submit the corrected draft of my manuscript to Lulu before I go to bed tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sleep.

October 24, 2008

How to Walk Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:06 pm
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I’ve mentioned on occasion how there are dangers and difficulties associated with revising a story as thoroughly as I am with this project. One difficulty is that each time I read a chapter, it can be a very different experience.

For example, a couple days ago, I was reading chapter seven. I didn’t expect it to give me any trouble, but as I read it, a number of sentences didn’t seem quite right; I wasn’t feeling the sense of flow that I thought I should. I didn’t make any drastic changes, but I did revise several sentences. The next day, I read the same chapter again, and that second time I didn’t see any of the problems that concerned me the day before. I was reading virtually the same text, but having two very different experiences.

Today, I read chapters three and four, and I was quite pleased with both of them. If I read them again tomorrow, however, who knows what my impression of those chapters will be?

I’ve said before that a text can never really be truly “finished,” and my experience with chapter seven just highlights this basic truth of writing. The dilemma for me, then, is when do I stop? I could spend another year — another dozen years — revising this novel, and it will never be “finished”. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a perfectionist: anything less than perfection in my own writing is an indication of failure and an occasion of shame. But I think I’m getting very close to the point where I’ll be able to lay down my pen (or close the .doc file) and walk away from it, satisfied that I’ve done the best that I can do.

How do you know when a story or a piece of writing is finished?

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