Inspired by the news that the original Star Wars movies on DVD, to be released this fall (packaged with the newer edits, apparently), will be not from the original prints but from the laserdisc transfer (why would they do that? –scroll down to the May 19 entry), and by my own current issues in working with various pieces of fiction, I wanted to take a look at editing.
Most aspiring authors I know have one of two issues with editing: either they don’t do enough, or they do too much. The don’t-do-enough crowd tend to be the people who are less passionate about writing, who get their idea down on paper and then think the fun part is over. I’ll save that for another time. The do-too-much crowd are often those who are either perfectionists or unsure of their ability or both. And the thing is, it’s likely that at one time or another, or from one project to another, everyone who writes will be part of one crowd or another. I certainly have been.
But: editing too much. There’s always going to be something you can improve in your story. Read through any published book you like, and chances are you’ll find a sentence that could have been tightened, a description that’s a little too vague, a piece of dialogue that rings just a little artificial. If you keep going through the edit -> give to friends -> incorporate comments cycle, you’ll never be finished, and the goal of writing is to produce something that people can read. So get it 95% there. Get it 98% there. Get it 99% there. Whenever you’re seeing that the edits you’re making are too minor to matter, declare it done and stop messing with it.
Of course, it’s not done, unless you’re publishing it yourself or sending it to your website. If you’re sending it around for consideration, and you get some suggestions back that the publisher says would improve your manuscript’s chances, go ahead and make some tweaks. This is toward a specific goal of getting it published.
And then, when you’re world-famous and everyone is clamoring for you to reprint your work, what do you do? Do you take out the publisher’s suggestions? Edit your work to fit your current sensibilities?
That will (hopefully) be your decision. My thinking right now is that your readers know and love your stories based on what they read. A story is a discussion between the writer and the reader, and to edit your work after your reader has engaged in the discussion devalues their participation in the process. You’re the writer. If your old stories bother you, write new ones.
Are you listening, Mr. Lucas?