Nov. 4th, 2009
A poet friend of mine recently said, "I never know when to stop revision."
So of course I wondered if/how I know when to stop revising. Lately, I've felt confident pronouncing poems done, and not just the ones I post here on LJ, which I hold to a different standard than the poetry I submit for publication (though not a lesser standard; you're not getting my dregs).
I have a sense, even as the poem comes spooling out on the page or screen, of how close I am to my mark. The closer I am on the first draft, the cleaner that draft is, the easier the revision and polish is, and the faster I arrive at a final product. "Yes," I decide. "The poem is itself."
When I feel adrift in the first draft, I relax and just generate words and images, knowing I don't know where I'm going yet, knowing that I'll have to come back to the poem the next day or months later before finding my way. At the end of each draft, I think, "Yes, the poem is beginning to resemble itself" or "No, I've wandered even further afield." And I try not to sweat it. Thanks to my poem-a-day project, I'm less inclined now to pin too much self-esteem on a single work, or to force every poem to "pay off" in some professional sense.
I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions regarding my fiction revisions. I've been working exclusively on the novel for over a year now, and I feel like I'm on track, much as when I'm zeroing in on a poem's platonic ideal. (Philosophy major? Who, me?) But--Captain Obvious speaking here--there's so much more territory in a novel...
So how do you know when to stop revising? Or do you?