When does a writer stop revising, cutting, rewriting? When is a piece finally done? I keep running into this problem. No matter how many times I edit and revise a piece, there is still something that can be improved upon, or changed. I run myself ragged striving to make it perfect.
Unfortunately sometimes my reader may have a problem with clarity, the choice of my words, or the amount of details I use. Sure I might have used the word in an unconventional way, but I still used it correctly. Or maybe I put that detail or word in for a reason: It might lend to the piece’s overall tone, or give the narrator a distinct voice, or really draw out an object or scene.
Why am I on the defense? Should I be?
This still brings me back to my initial statement: When does too much revision, or catering to the reader, ruin the author’s original intent? Can I, or should I–a writer–cater, or should I throw caution to the wind and do what I want, express myself how I want? I realize I need to be concise in some places. I know full descriptions aren’t always necessary, and I realize I always need to be clear so the reader can enjoy the piece, without becoming confused. But I also know, "If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it."
Getting by a difficult passage doesn’t mean it is written poorly, it might mean the reader just needs to think through what he or she just read, rather than gloss over the words without paying any particular attention. Joseph Conrad is an author whose details are so engrossing and intricate that if a person quickly read, or skimmed through his book, Heart of Darkness, they would be lost in his language, which is as dense as the jungle through which his characters traversed. Conrad's wordplay is such that one must take in each word to understand his full meaning.
Writing is a form of art and each writer has a story tell, but in their own way. If a writer allows another person to overly-change a piece to the point of destroying the original form, intent, voice, tone, etc., they are doing a disservice to the art form, and to themself.
So, when is a piece done? As Antoine de Saint Exupéry said, “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is anything to add, but when there is nothing to take away.”
By the same token Gene Fowler stated, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Writing is hard, soft, and constant work, and I love it. As I have grown over the years as a writer and as a man, I have come to the conclusion that my writings are only done when I say they are. No matter what the possibility exists of someone (including myself) saying the work needs improvment, something needs to be added, something needs to be taken away, or the piece is full of grammatical errors. However, only I can truly say, "It is done. Let those who read it do what they will with it."
So let me say seven years after originally writing this essay, rant, or whatever you want to call it—I am calling it finished.