When is a piece of writing finished? Can anyone truly look at their work and say ‘yes, this is perfect’? Even then, would they still feel the same way in two years? In ten?
J. K. Rowling has been in the press recently, remarking that she would like to rewrite some of the Harry Potter books. Even after publication, after acceptance and sales and critical reception, it seems words are not safe. And why should they be? Our writing changes as we ourselves change. Our writing is a reflection of us, so it is only natural to assume that as we grow and develop, as our technical abilities change and our world perceptions alter, so our writing should change with that.
I have spent the morning editing one of my short stories (‘The Flock‘) after receiving three independent sets of feedback on it. (Thank you, kindly critics, you know who you are!) Without any feedback, I would have been quite happy with the story. I felt it captured everything that I wanted it to, that it sounded right, and read appropriately. And why shouldn’t it? I have shaped the story according to my perspectives. Each word has been chosen for a reason, because of the impact and meaning it evokes, or the way it works in the sentence.
Much of the responses confirmed this, which is obviously great. The best comments, however, were those that challenged certain parts of the writing. ‘Why have you chosen this word, here?’ ‘I’m not sure that works, there.’ And this is why reviewing work is so important. Words and sentences that make sense to one person might not evoke the same imagery or set of responses from someone else. Self-editing is important, even critical, but it can only achieve so much before you need someone else’s eyes, with their own set of world-views, experiences and understanding, to make their own observations.
And the rewards are well-worth it! There is nothing quite as satisfying as watching your piece of writing reshape itself – a sentence tweak here, a word choice there – becoming sleeker and more striking with each evolution. Imbued with the editorial insights, the story becomes something else, something stronger and more confident. What more could a writer ask for?