Monday, March 16, 2009

To Tweak or Not to Tweak? That is the Question.

So, I've got a question. Totally hypothetical, of course.

You've got a half dozen short stories under your belt. Somehow you've mustered the courage to send them out into the cruel universe for publication. Or mutilation. Whichever the Fates decree. You've got a plan, you see. Send out those little gems and wait patiently for them to return like wayward carrier pigeons, hopefully bearing good news in those little canisters tied to their legs, and in the meantime while away the long days by finally weaving that novel that's been percolating in the back of your noggin.

Then, just as you are in jeopardy of actually starting said novel, the rejection notices start flying at you, like poison darts fired by headhunters. But the people you think are headhunters are actually editors of magazines you THOUGHT you liked, only now you realize they obviously have no sense of style or eye for talent.

Oh sure, some of them have chatty little personal notes tacked on. Stuff like, "I loved your story except for the lack of plot and likeable characters…" or "We'd love to publish your story but for the fact that we have standards…" yada, yada, yada. Their sugar-coated platitudes can't hide the fact that it all adds up to the same thing: rejection!

Suddenly your attention is drawn from your upcoming bestseller back to these literary nuggets that desperately need a home. Upon reopening your stories you discover, to your horror, that perhaps there are flaws. Microscopic, to be sure, but they are there. And they must be addressed. Immediately!

So now you find yourself in this endless cycle of rehashing…rethinking…rewriting!

My question is this:

At some point, do you simply let them go? Those wayward stories, I mean. Do you get to a point where you throw your hands up and declare, "Enough! I will not budge another inch!" If they never find a home just consider it a part of your writing education and move on..?

Or do you endlessly tweak until they are perfect?


Charlie said...

I'm a tweaker! My novel has been "finished" for several months now, that is until I find a better end to this scene or devolopment to that character... I suppose I could rewrite the same story until it morphs into something completely different.

Ink said...

I'm not sure there's an easy answer to that question. Personally, I'm a tweaker... but I'm not sure that really slows me down. I do lots of drafts, particularly for novels. Less so for short stories, maybe since they mean less to me. But, still, I'm finicky.

I think there's a point at which you probably have to leave the stories... but I'm not sure what that point is. I think it really depends on how much that "tweaking" is interrupting your onward progress. Is helping or hindering? Personally, I don't think tweaking a short story takes that long. I could spend part of the day working on a novel and then do a bit of tweaking on short stories once I have a good scene written. Or I know some people will write all week on a main project but save one day for other stuff, like writing or revising short stories. And once you "make it" as an author I'm betting you'll probably have different projects in different stages at the same time, all of which require work and have deadlines that must be met. So writing one book, revising another and doing final copy edits before printing for a third. Ah, multi-tasking, my fearful nemesis...

I'd probably decide what I want my main focus to be, and then try to work a schedule around that (with time allotted for the sideshows).

There does usually come a time for me, though, when the story is what it is. I put it out there and if it sells, great, and if not, well, them's the breaks. Other things to write, and other stories to try and shepherd out into the world.

Ink said...

And happy St. Paddy's Day, all! Also known as The Day of Green Beer (and Night of Green Bodily Fluids - but now is no time for pessimism!).

Anonymous said...

Deadlines help. I have a con that I go to regularly every year, at the beginning of September, and I've found that makes a good deadline for long-form projects. If I don't have it ready to offer by then, I'm probably off my game.

A lot of this comes down to what choices you make, how many of them, and when you stop making them. Janet Fitch, the author of White Oleander, put it this way: until you make a choice of some kind, you have nothing at all. To me, that includes the choice to stop revising, take what you've learned, and move on to the next thing.

If your work's good enough, it will be loved because of its flaws and not just despite them, and that's the most anyone could ask for, I think.

Bookworm1605 said...

Yeah, I'm a tweaker, too. I guess we all are to an extent. The tough part is coming to that point when you decide that 'it is what it is.' That's what I struggle with. I guess you have to develop a strong sense of what you want in a story and just roll with it.

Ms Kitty said...

I've not sent out much. One flash fiction that was accepted. (Local paper.)

I had a novel in ABNA that I'm planning on sending out with whatever revisions the reviews indicate.

(Other than a midnight panic edit, before I uploaded it to ABNA.) I haven't touched it since the day I considered it finished. So I'm not a tweaker, yet.

When one writes to sell, the market is what drives the story. I've changed the way I write, to make my novels more commercial.

Ink said...

Well, I've known lots of writers who don't tweak at all, and merely move from first draft to first draft without ever learning anything about editing. But for us tweakers... the point of "leave it alone" usually comes along after awhile. It comes when I think the story really does what I intended it to do, that is, that it fulfills the story purpose I set out for it. If I do that and can't sell it anywhere... well, there's one last decision: change it into a different type of story, if you want to write that story, or simply accept that it is what it is and that there isn't a market for that right now (though there's lots of little markets out there). And if I make that "leave it alone" choice it's usually okay because there's always more stories to write. Anyway, that's how I approach it.

Wanu said...

I think rejection is more a motivation to send the story elsewhere than it is to start editing.

You've got to give a story a chance. Or a few. Or a few dozen. I'm not influenced much by market statistics, but I have read that the average sub rate for a short story is twenty times before acceptance.

You could almost get caught up in a negative feedback loop. Send something to publisher A and they say, 'pretty good, but needs more character.' So you alter the story to focus more on the character work, and then send it to publisher B who is more interested in balls-out action. He doesn't give advice, but sends a form rejection. So you ramp up the character work even more, and send to publisher C who replies with, 'this is more like lit fic than sci-fi, it wouldn't fit in our mag..' and you're faced with the possibility that the original version of the story probably would have made it into magazine C.

If you see what I mean. I think its best to stick with it. If you thought the story was good enough when you sent it out, then why should one personal opinion cause you to change it? You see this massive variance in appreciation in critique all the time. Editors are just regular dudes (and gals) and they have their own preferences.

Ink said...

I agree with Wanu, but with the caveat that you listen seriously to what an editor says. You don't have to do it... but you should listen to it the way you do with any critique. You judge it: will it help you improve the story according to your standards? Don't change just to suit the editor or a perceived market, both of which are highly subjective... but if it helps push your story the way you want it to go I say go and tweak. I've done that to good effect after personal feedback on a single submission.