That ability is a positive in certain aspects of life, including my role as a reader. I tend to find redeeming features in even books I struggle at times to read, whether it’s a supporting character I love, a little mystery I’m interested in until the final reveal, or great pacing.
But smoothing things over as a writer can be more difficult. I recently wrote about the advantages of using a beta reader, but another aspect of those fresh eyes is knowing when constructive criticism is going to make your work better and when it’s simply going to make your work different.
The piece I wrote about previously needed reworking, and I’m thrilled with the changes I made. Without comments from my beta reader, I wouldn’t have changed the approach of the story in the way I ended up changing it. The narrative perspective shifted, changing the dynamic of the story and the focus of the main characters.
With that said, it shifted the story into a different thematic feel. My original intention for the piece had to be reevaluated because what I ended up with, though better, is much different from what I started with and what I need for a particular project.
When notes came back on another short story, one I thought was done, my heart clenched a bit. Despite strong words of encouragement, my reader wanted to see some major reworks in the narrative timeline. I started jotting notes on my most recently printed copy, ready to smooth more feathers and polish into something a little different from I intended.
But a few words from another trusted reader made me put down my pen and re-read my own words. As I read, I felt the emotional pull of the story, the pacing I deliberately created when I originally worked and reworked and painstakingly revised the story the first time.
Though it’s necessary to be able to kill your darlings, to mangle them for the sake of improvement, necessary to put aside your ego and emotional investment in a story to make it better, it can also be crucial to stand up for them. Not every story will rest in the heart of every reader, and there will be times when making edits won’t make your work better, they will only make it different. And as a writer, you will have to decide how different you’re willing to make your words.
Writing to make every single reader happy will never happen, and sometimes when a writer thinks a piece is done, its done.
How do you know when a piece is finished? (Or finished enough?)