When to Rewrite, and When to Leave it Alone: Or, Is It Done Yet?

The question of when something needs further drafts, versions, and either heavy rewrites or light editing is a question that, I think, a lot of writers consider. Likewise, I haven’t met a lot who like revisions, even though to a greater or lesser extent, they’re still essential for every work in progress (WIP). Thus arises the question: continue rewrites, or leave it alone and move onto something else? Is this a piece that “is as it is,” or should it be something else, something more?

Everyone has their own answer, and while there are easy books and hard ones, revision is necessary.  You complete draft two … then three … and before you know it, with some pieces, you’re onto draft eight or nine.

This is where I interject my confession: the inspiration for this piece comes from the fact that I’m considering starting revisions on a piece that is already in draft eight at least (I sometimes fudge the numbers or forget to save new versions for the first two drafts or so … which makes the “d8” designation even more depressing). Yes, it has been literally years since I’ve worked on this piece, so I shouldn’t still be sick of it, but still, are the revisions necessary? Should I even try, or should I just leave it be and start on the “something new” that I really want?

I have to ask myself, is this honestly the best this piece can be? Have I polished it to what it should be? The best that I can do right now?

That latter part – the best right now – that’s the rub, because sometimes, what was good enough months ago – or even years ago – sometimes it doesn’t seem good enough when you go back with more distance from the piece provided by time and other writing. Other pieces have been rewritten, improved, overall concepts have changed. Your writing itself – along with some of your goals and central ideas about theme – have also probably changed. Thus what was as good as it could be at the time is now … well, lacking.

So, do you go back?

Personally, it isn’t usually something I do – which is perhaps part of my hesitation to do so now. Most of the time, I say keep moving forward, don’t look back too much. With every new work, every new novel, you continue to grow, evolve, and it continues to let you play with your writing – which likewise helps to improve your writing, increase your experience. Plus, when you’re asked about what you have completed, you have more than one novel to submit, and you can prove you’re more than just a “one book author.” Besides which, some books are what they are, and perhaps they should be allowed to remain as such – even if they never become the blockbusters you one dreamed they could be.

I’m as yet unpublished, though I have completed seven full length (100k) novels. At least three will never see the light of day, and probably shouldn’t, unless someday I’m inspired to go back and make use of what I did like about them and dispose of the rest. There are three more that I’m actively marketing … and then there’s the “problem child” – the WIP I think I probably have to go back and rewrite.

Why does this one get the exception to my rule of keep moving forward, onto the next book? Why might yours be the same?

  • It’s part of a series
  • There’s something about the story I still like – and many have said it’s their favorite story.
  • It comes between two other books that have been substantially rewritten, and may consequentially now lack continuity and the ability to “participate” in the series.

The final reason, though, is the reason that right after this I have to start going back and taking a look. The question I ask myself is: it may have been good enough before, but is it good enough now? Is this something you can say is the best you can write, a great showcase of your work and your ability as a writer? Do I still care about it enough to try?

I haven’t looked back yet, I haven’t analyzed the book. Maybe it too may stay and be accepted as it is … or maybe not. I guess I won’t know until I take a look.

So what about you, do you ever “look back,” or constantly keep moving forwards? Please do comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.