Monday, September 6, 2010

Stick a Fork In It

Post by Jenny

I shouldn’t confess this in front of the likes of This Mama Cooks and Hearth Cricket and all the other foodie folks out there, but I overcook everything. I have served my (very forgiving) family crumbling roast beef, stringy chicken, and curling fish fillets. All my baked goods have at least four toothpick-test holes in the top.

Part of my problem comes from having always lived in Colorado, where the higher altitude often necessitates extended cooking times. The rest is due to my semi-obsessive need to always be sure. I don’t want to risk serving up pinkish poultry or doughy zucchini bread. So I leave the food in the oven a little while longer. Just to be sure. The irony here is that those extra five “be sure” minutes often take my food from perfectly done to overdone.

In short, I don’t trust my judgment.

I have the same trouble with my writing. When is a WIP ever “done?” I have, on occasion, thought a project was completed, only to have someone else peel back the wrapper, so to speak, and reveal the equivalent of a soggy cupcake bottom.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with the issue of readiness. Read through your favorite agent’s list of blog posts, and you will likely find categories such as “revisions,” or “self-editing,” or “manuscript preparation,” or “will you, oh wise industry professional, please please please tell me when my book is ready?”

In a guest post on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog, Brian Russell compares manuscripts to houses (The Architecture of Revision). He writes, “We have to wind a new structure through the old. We have to see two things at once. What was, and what might be…And what might be… and what might be… and what might be…For there is no end, really. There are a thousand possible shapes, a million possible forms.”

So true, so eloquent, and yet…aaack! Would someone please invent a manuscript version of one of those pop-up turkey timer thingies that will, once and for all, put this question to rest? Needless to say, I very much appreciated Alan Orloff’s recent "Enough Already" post. When it comes to revising/polishing/obsessing, the devil is truly in the details. (And, for the love of Pete, someone please stop me before I try to learn Hebrew.)

How do you know when your writing passes the toothpick test?


Kay Theodoratus said...

I think you need "outside" readers to do the "toothpick" test.

I don't know if a writer can ever be the sole "judger" of their writing. That's one of the reasons I appreciate the Northern Colorado Writers so much. It's put me in contact with critiquers and beta-readers.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Jenny, it's done (almost) when it has been accepted for publication. But then you still have to go through the editing process, and the copy editing process, etc. :)

The fact is, as long as a manuscript sits in your computer, or a printed sits on your desk, you will continue to tweak and revise and "fix" stuff.

When you get fed up with the tweaking, revising and fixing, and your first reader (as Kay suggested) finds nothing else wrong, it's time to submit.


Trai said...

A screenwriter friend of mine answered this question thusly: "When my agent slaps it out of my hands."

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