Over the past few years I've read many a blog post on how to know when you're done with a book-- like really really done, no more tinkering, no more changes. It's really tough. Most things I've read will have you believe you must cut yourself off at some point, even if you must shackle yourself to a post to stop touching that MS. I always thought I knew the point where it was time to stop.
It's that magical period where a new story begins brewing. I know, some of you have not had this experience. But I know I'm done with a story when I start thinking more about the new one that I do about the old one. If I'm not done editing the old one by then, then I sort of squelch the new one as best I can, while secretly thinking of it. But I don't allow myself free reign on the new one until the old one is done.
And by done, I mean edited.
I've written enough stories by now to have a sort of process down. Each time I finish something, I improve the process. Here's mine:
1. Do a big picture edit. This means plot. I spend the most time on this because I believe plot is what makes a good story. Of course many other things go into it, but it have a lousy plot or no plot at all, you don't have much. So I review my plot points. I re-read books on plot.
2. Do a character edit. Are my characters acting the way they're supposed to? Do they have motivation? Are they conflicted? Have I given them enough personality?
3. Do a language edit. This is where going through the list I posted last week helps. (Note to KLM: I totally hadn't finished doing that by the time I sent you mine. So when you come across a veritable sea of words ending in -ly, then you know I'm going through and getting them still.) In a language, edit, I do spot checks--randomly landing in parts of the document to see what horrible little gremlins of awful writing I find. (Quite a lot, as it turns out.)
4. Revise after critiques. At this point--or, as it happens--shortly before, I send the ms out for review with my beta readers. Then I wait for overall critiques to come in. Those can be a mixed bag, of course, because not everyone has the same critiques. But I take what I get, then revise.
5. Do a final edit. This is the tough one because it requires that I put the thing aside for awhile in order to be fresh. At this point, I usually let myself loose on a new story.
I haven't done this always, and it sounds a lot more structured than it is. But I like to think I'm using a system because it makes me feel like I'm doing a good job editing, and that my final product will be a saleable, publishable, and most of all, readable book.
What about you? I'd love to hear your editing approach--and when you feel you've gotten to the end of a story and are ready to stop tinkering.