My friend Ruth is an inspiration. She is finishing her MFA in poetry at Bennington this spring, and is in the home stretch with her thesis. Home stretch being one more draft, and then the final edit. And then she is done. Right?
No. She won’t be done. Her thesis will be completed, printed, bound, and put on the shelves. She will give her lecture. But I know her–she will probably tweak the poems at a rest stop on her way up to Vermont. She is not the only poet who continues to tweak. I read three versions of a poem by Seamus Heaney. It changed a bit every time it was published. In poetry, every single word is a critical choice, and rethinking those choices is OK.
Once a novel is published, it is rare that someone goes in and changes it. I have heard it happen when an egregious error needs to be fixed. But is it the norm? No. But…
I have been querying a novel that is “done”. And then I took a workshop with Donald Maass. And now I am considering getting rid of a character, changing a relationship from cordial to icy, and making my protagonist bitchier. Now, I could just take what I learned and apply it to the next book. But since I want this to be a series, and this work would make it a better book, I am going to go back and “fix” it. But I am going to give myself a timeline–it goes back to the “done” pile by July 1.
“Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned.” Oscar Wilde was right. Done is never done, but at some point you need to move on.
Does this happen to you? The obsessive need to tweak? Or is done, done?
J.A. Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource. She is a mystery writer who has her story “Her Wish” published in DEAD CALM, an anthology by Level Best Books. She is a huge social media fan, and tweets under @JulieHennrikus. She wrestles with allusions of athleticism, is an avid theater goer and a proud member of Red Sox nation.