Editing Challenge Day 30: Have the Courage Not to Be Done

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

You made it, writers! You’ve gotten to the end of the marathon! Here we are, on the very last day of our thirty-day editing challenge. Did you go all the way? Did you try to do a little editing every day, even if it wasn’t exactly the tip I prescribed? I’d love to hear what your editing process has looked like in the past month. Send me a note on Twitter @bhurley to tell me how things went. Are you proud of the story you’ve created? Are you surprised by what form it ultimately took? Are you inspired to create new spin-off stories, using the characters that were jettisoned? Tell me all about it.

I want to conclude this project with just a few thoughts about where to go from here. One teacher of mine, who offered some of the most helpful advice I’ve heard about editing, finished his talk by saying that at the end of all the exhausting work, you must be willing not to be done. So many budding writers get tired and then get frozen. They stop seeing things that could be changed in their work; they give up. They think the work is as good as it can be and that’s that and now it will sink or float the way it is. This period of fatalism is often followed by a flurry of sending the story out and having it get rejected. That’s when most people quit. They can even get bitter at this very delicate stage, and start blaming politics or the environment at literary magazines or whatnot. There are many reasons to be frustrated about the system and the way it works, but I think that’s a separate conversation from whether your work can be made better. And the truth is that the writers who succeed are the ones who have the courage not to be done.

It means being willing to pull that story out of the drawer, maybe right after it has received a disheartening rejection, and think about ways it could be changed. It means being open to radical changes even way down the track, even if you’ve had your heart set on one particular ending for weeks, months, years. It means being open to possibility, and to the wonders of your own talent and ability and hard work.

So today, on our very last day of our editing challenge, I’m asking you to do one more thing: to not be done. To revisit that story and other stories as many times as is necessary. To examine and re-examine and find ways to shake up your thinking so that you don’t fall into old rutted grooves. Print out the story in a different font or color. Make a game of cutting words. Read it aloud. Have a friend or partner read it aloud to you. De-construct it and build it again. Make it work. Keep working even after the joy is gone; push through the sweat and tears; take a break, recover your energies, and do it all over again. Do not be done until you feel deeply and firmly that the story is better than anything you’ve ever written, and that it’s ready to go out the door. And even then, read it once more, and find that one typo that has hidden in a sentence through twenty drafts. Read it one final time, and be proud of what you’ve created.

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