October 5th Question: When do you know your story is ready?
I don’t, really.
For the last several years, I haven’t felt like I really finished anything. Even when I was writing a lot of fanfiction, I generated and posted it at breakneck speed before my insecurity could stop me. Typos? It’s just the internet. I don’t know my audience all that personally and I can go back and fix any typos or other glaring errors I catch later on if I’m really that fussed about it.
Aside from the crushing self-doubt that’s slowed my creative output to a trickle, I feel like this is a fairly reasonable attitude. When I do get something published, I’ll probably know even less of my audience. The biggest difference is that once it’s submitted and put in print, I won’t be able to go back to make changes — and yet I keep stumbling across editions from various authors where they have, gasp, made changes. The 10th anniversary edition of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, for instance. Or the 35th anniversary audiobook edition of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, annotated with all the author’s comments about his editors’ input, his original thought processes, and pithy little “Well, what do you think?” comments. Even big names like these came back to their stories after a few years and thought of more things they could do to make the story really complete, really ready for the next generation of first-time readers.
No one ever feels like the story is quite done. The best you can ever do is get to the end, edit well, get good eyeballs and feedback on it before it’s published, and move on to the next story. Give it some time to settle.
“Personally, I think you learn more from finishing things, from seeing them in print, wincing, and then figuring out what you did wrong, than you could ever do from eternally rewriting the same thing. But that’s me, and I came from comics where I simply didn’t have the liberty of rewriting a story until I was happy with it, because it needed to be out that month, so I needed to get it more or less right first time. Once I disliked a Sandman story on proofreading it so much that I asked if it could be pulled and buried and was told no, it couldn’t, which is why the world got to read the Emperor Norton story, “Three Septembers and a January”, although I no longer have any idea why I thought it was a bad story, and I’m pleased that Tom Peyer ignored my yelps.” ~ Neil Gaiman
On the off chance things still bother me by the time I’ve made it big, I’ll revise them then.