When do you stop rewriting and revising?

Dog tired

I’m a compulsive reviser, which I didn’t know was a word until I just typed it and my spellchecker left it alone. Huh.

But anyway, I will take 30 passes at a short story, revising and refining until I have every word exactly where I want it. And then I’ll take a 31st pass and move more stuff around.  I know what you are thinking: Baker doesn’t write outlines, so no wonder he has to keep fixing his mess.

[That was for you, Janna G. Noelle]


Beyond draft two, I’m not deconstructing and rebuilding plots and events anymore, just trimming and adding words. Line by line I go, forever finding one more little thing to tweak, never knowing when I’m done. Come to think of it, I haven’t finished a damn story yet.

So how do you know when to stop revising? And by “you” I mean You, the person reading this post. Are you a one-and-done purist, or a never-done perfectionist? How do you know when it’s time to hit save, sit back, and enjoy a nice, hot cup o’ Joe?


41 responses to “When do you stop rewriting and revising?

  • kristenotte

    I stop editing when I can’t look at the story anymore – usually around 4-5 passes at it.

    • ericjbaker

      Your writing is so clean for that few drafts. I’m usually sick of mine around then too, but I keep flogging for another 25, just to make sure it’s good and dead.

  • toconnell88

    I think I know intuitively when a story’s close to done. I hold myself to an incredibly high standard. If I’m not happy with it, I’ll obsess until I am.

    Failing that, if a story returns from my beta readers with minimal notations I’ll know it’s just about good to go.

    Theoretically, though, I could revise indefinitely. I only really consider a story ‘done’ if someone’s agreed to publish it.

  • Dave

    I revise a lot of times. Fortunately, I do eventually reach a point where I’m happy with a given story. Now, with my current novel, that’s a completely different story. I’ve been going through it for a painfully long time. So long I’m about ready to shove it in a drawer and let it sit for a bit while I go off and entertain myself with something new.

  • Paula Tohline Calhoun

    OMG, why didn’t you warn me this would be your subject today? I am NEVER finished with ANYTHING. This blanket statement includes making comments on other people’s blogs. I sort of solved my problem on my own blog by putting a word limit on a post. I positively will stop, no matter how much revising and reworking is needed: once I reach the 100,000 word mark, I am done. I am not yet able to set a limit on comments though which is why I often find that bloggers who screen comments will scrap mine. I wonder why? God knows I have plenty to say, and an incredible talent in saying the same thing over and over again ad infinitum. Who doesn’t love reading stuff like that?

    So, as far as when to stop revising, I have not had that problem, because I haven’ t figured out how to know when to stop writing. There is a hint of perfectionism hidden in your conundrum. I don’t t believe folks like that (you and me) are ever completely happy with what they produce creatively. I will never write the poem that exists (I’m quite certain) in my mind. Something always gets lost in the transition between thought and execution. If you recall, I have a disclaimer on my blog called, “Living in the Draftsville Hotel.” I should probably move, but I have become far too comfortable there. If you are I.interested, there is a nice single room available two floors above me. I can speak to the manager for you. Let me know.

    Oh dear. This comment has come to an ending point – and so soon, too. I must have failed to make all the points I intended to, but I have to quit anyway (another black mark in my book of blog crimes). But, the dog has expressed (and how!) a wish to sojourn about the yard before retiring.

    Enough. . .

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    I’m kind of like you. Took me several years to write my one short story/novella I printed as an e-book. And yes, I keep rereading and changing a line or word. Until finally I just force myself to stop. I’m not as hard on myself on my non-fiction or essays or even my haikus, just my fiction – which is currently limited to three completed stories and one published. 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      That’s not to say you haven’t been prolific. After all, I just read your book! But I know what you mean about the fiction, and I could feel it when I was reading your story… Like me, you wanted every word in the exact spot it belonged. When people read my fiction, i don’t want them to think, “There was a better way to say that.”

  • Eric Tonningsen

    I am a leaning perfectionist. I don’t write but I engage in similar exercises with my speeches. My mentors and speech coaches, whose judgment I trust, always encourage continuous editing. “You can always make your speech/story better.” Within that continuum, I eventually balk. possessing neither the patience nor endurance to create or deliver perfection. I love my hot cup o’ Jo more.

    • ericjbaker

      Some writers have felt and argued that the best draft is always the first, because it’s the most authentically from your mind and soul. I’m not sure that approach would work for me, but surely it is effective for some. On a side note, you don’t think speeches are writing? Writing is arranging words to convey ideas or to express oneself. I’m sure you are a fine writer.

      • Eric Tonningsen

        Thanks, Eric. I believe that some speeches are writing yet when delivered, also sound like they were written. Other speeches, as told by great storytellers, roll off their lips and from their hearts such that a listener would never think they had first been written if, in fact, they were written. Interestingly (or sadly), I have been told that I speak and deliver speeches/stories well but that my written drafts are too oft informational or mechanical. Thankfully, I brew coffee better than I write. 🙂

  • Arkenaten

    I had the horror of discovering that the last MS I submitted – that was accepted and published online – had a plot flaw. ( they even missed it) I wrote and asked for the book to be ‘pulled’. They agreed and I spent the next six weeks rewriting revising and generally going mental.
    There’s always going to be something, but at some point one must stop and declare “enough!”.

    Joyce was forever rewriting and tinkering so I read and didn’t Homer take ten years or something to write the Iliad?

    That is a fantastic picture, by the way.

    I have two boxer dogs and they are the most lovable creatures imaginable.

    • ericjbaker

      In Homer’s case, the 10 years seems to have been worth the investment. We should all get to be in print so long!

      I try to make my stories weird and fast-paced enough so that no one notices the plot holes. I’ll be in trouble if anyone ever pays attention. 😉

      I know almost nothing about dogs and am not particularity a dog person outside of enjoying those that live with family and friends. But I know that most people are animal lovers, and cute animal pics make good blog toppers.

      • Arkenaten

        Homer, yeah. Who would have thought the Simpsons were ever that popular. Go figure?

        So in actual fact you post these pictures just to suck up to a potential audience in a vain attempt to boost ratings?

        How shallow….

        I like it!

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I realize it’s time to stop revising when I’ve cut as many words possible and the story still makes sense. 🙂 I love cutting words.

    • ericjbaker

      I tend to write sparsely the first time around, so I usually have to go back and flesh it out. I also realize on second pass that I need to add a scene sometimes. The painstaking part is ironing out the wrinkles. I spend expend so much effort doing it that I can’t even tell how it reads anymore on a macro level.

  • shelleyhazen83

    I read once that writers never think they’re done, that they could revise and revise until they’re blue in the face. And I think that’s true. In answer to your question, I feel like I’m done when I feel satisfied. I also have a method for revision, so when those steps are done, I’m done revising. Gradually, as I revise layer by layer, I see things that need to be changed and the farther along I go, I find fewer and fewer things to change.

    • ericjbaker

      I think that’s similar to the way I work, except that I always say, “Well, let me just read it through to make sure.” And then I find scores more things to move around. I’m not sure any of it needs revising at that point; it’s merely my compulsion to do so.

  • nrhatch

    I am a “good enough is good enough” gal. Nothing lasts anyway . . . so why obsess?

  • Kevin Brennan

    Short answer: never. Seriously, if I read through something, I’ll make changes. They might be minute, but I’ll definitely fiddle. The thing is, with a novel, it takes so long to get through an ms that ultimately I just say, That’s it.

  • Ensis

    I’ve always been a “learn by making mistakes” guy. I put something out there when I’ve given it two good revisions, then I release it unto the world. I go back after a while and tweak what’s not working.

    • ericjbaker

      And it’s probably just as good that way. I keep telling myself I’m going to try a different approach and just let it go after three drafts, but I know I never will.

  • Janna G. Noelle


    I think I’m a bit opposite to you (surprise surprise). I take a long time to get the story out because I agonize over it at sentence level upfront as I’m writing it. I never want to use placeholders for the word or description I really mean, and if it isn’t coming to me in the moment, I will wait it out, repeating the sentence over and over in my head until it finally sounds the way I want. (Then I type like mad before I forget it.)

    So after having gone through that at times arduous process, it usually takes me only one or two or at most three revisions to clean up excess verbiage or re-work ideas before I’m satisfied. Mind you, I can only speak for shorter works (short stories, blog posts, articles, etc.) as I’ve yet to complete anything novel-length. It will be interesting for me to see how I operate once I do.

    • ericjbaker

      We probably both spend the same amount of time, but yours is front-loaded. I’d get too frustrated if I aimed for perfection from the first draft, partly because I’m writing subconsciously (almost) and partly because I don’t know what’s coming next. Why make it perfect when I may ended up changing events later. I just bang out the skeleton first time around so I have a framework. You could say that my first draft is sort of like your outline in many ways.

      Of course, I am a writer, so it’s not like my first drafts lack flow or impact.

  • livelytwist

    Like you, I revise, revise, revise. Then I distance myself from the work for a while. When I revisit, I typically make only one or two revisions, then it’s good to go. Most of my revisions have to do with making the language more efficient. I enjoyed thinking about the question(s) you posed.

    • ericjbaker

      Putting the piece down for a while is critical. Like I said in response to a previous comment, I end up disliking everything I’ve written and lose sight of the story after a while, so I need to give it some space and then reread.

      Thanks for the comment, Ms. Lively!

  • L. Palmer

    I agree with others who say a writer is nearly never done. If we’re focusing on our craft, we are always improving and can bring that experience to what we’ve written. I’m trying to go by the following rules 1. Is the story complete and enjoyable? 2. Are the characters interesting? 3. Is the prose polished and fully presentable?

    There are always improvements, but there comes a point when we have to hold our breath and push things out the door. I’m nearly to that point, and it’s both exciting and terrifying.

    • ericjbaker

      On your three questions, a second opinion is critical for me, because I get to close to the work. It’s probably the same experience for most writers.

      I assume everything will fall flat and the story has no flow, and I’m not sure my obsessive revising has any positive effect in that regard. Like you said, at some point you just have to kiss it and put it on the school bus.

      Good luck on your project when it is ready for the world’s eyes!

  • Anonymous

    On a lazy day, right after two, maybe three reads. At other times, I just keep reading over and editing… even after hitting save. With blogs, I keep revising until a new post comes up and I start all over again.
    Never-done perfectionist would be apt, even though perfection eludes me most of the time.

  • linguerebi

    On a lazy day, right after two, maybe three reads. At other times, I just keep reading over and editing… even after hitting save. With blogs, I keep revising until a new post comes up and I start all over again.
    Never-done perfectionist would be apt, even though perfection eludes me most of the time.

    • ericjbaker

      Hi there! Blog posts don’t get much revision. I throw my thoughts down and pass through a couple of times to clean up the sloppy bits and the typos (the ones I notice, that is). Fiction is entirely different as I described above. Much more agonizing. With my latest, I’m going to try my best to hand it off to beta readers sooner.

      Thanks for visiting!

  • Uzoma

    I admit that I revise my work a lot to the point I sometimes get worried. Leaving the work for sometime does help because when I return to it, I do so with fresh eyes and a clear mind (I’m more like a reader than the author).

    Revisions are good, but the act can also hamper a writer’s progress when overdone and without proper cause.

    • ericjbaker

      First off, so glad to see you are back. I was just thinking of you the other day and hoping you were well.

      Second, your comment is right on point for my experience. In my quest to perfect every word, I fear I am taking the life out of my writing sometimes. I’m really really really going to turn my novel over for beta reading much sooner next time. Maybe.

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