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How do you know when it’s just right?

edited November 2005 in - Writing Problems


  • Hi,
    I’ve just started writing my first short story, but I’m having trouble. This is not because of writers block, or running out of ideas. When I revise what I’ve done so far I keep altering sentences (sometimes whole paragraphs) but it still never seems to be good enough.
    How do you know when it’s just right? I don’t know what to do; keep on polishing, or move on and leave my story blemished.
    If you could, your help would be much appreciated.
  • Hi
    Try working the other way  round.  Choose the publication you want to write for, then shape and alter your work to fit.  Good luck
  • I wonder if you've read it so many times that you've lost your objectivity. If so, it might help to put it aside for a while and come back to it later when you might see it differently.

    Also, have you tried reading it aloud?
  • Hello Amethyst, hope your weather's warmer than ours.

    Everybody finds their own way of working, but I think it's really important to enjoy your writing.  I like to get the whole story down on paper at an early stage while it's fresh in my mind. I don't aim for perfection in the first version, I just try and capture the flow of the story while I'm still feeling enthusiastic about it.  It doesn't matter if the first draft is rough around the edges, once it's on paper you've got something to work with.

    The next stage can become a bit of a chore as I too tend to keep tinkering about, changing words and being unsure whether the story is saying what I want it to.  I try to have a couple of projects on the go, then when I find I am getting too bogged down in one I'll put it away for a bit and work on the other.

    As suggested above, reading aloud is a good way to show up anything obvious that needs changing.  Also, as someone suggested elsewhere on this website, you could record yourself reading your story onto a cassette tape and then play it back to see how it sounds.

    It is really hard to know when you've got it right.  What you want to say one day isn't necessarily what you want to say the next day.  I recently re-read a story I wrote last year (which was published) and I still found things I would like to change if I could!

    Good luck with the writing.     
  • Oh, my. But why do you think your story is bad in the first place?
    If you are still not sure - show it to a friend. Their comments may show you if there are any weak points.
    Try thinking in detail - Is there anything in particular you don't like? Is grammar okay? Does the story flow smoothly?
    If all those are fine, then your story is alright and doesn't need more rewriting.
  • i think you have to be careful how much annotating and changing you do. its like a piece of art: you think youve finished it, you look at it, its not quite right, you add a few colours here and there, you look again, still not sure, add another colour, you look and that the whole thing has been ruined because you went too far with trying to make it better.

    sorry, probably not very helpful.
  • Hi Amethyst! Well done on getting your first story down on paper - that's a big achievement.  I think the 'polishing & polishing until it's worn away' thing is probably a new writer's problem.  I have only recently come back to writing but have found that the more that I write the easier it is becoming.  I think it's a big mistake to show it to family/friends because generally you won't get an honest opinion... nobody would like to hurt your feelings!  Likewise, when putting a story up for critique on a forum such as this, although the suggestions could well be valid, you have to be very careful not to start re-writing your original idea the way other people would have written the story; just digest the advice but don't re-write YOUR story! I think the best advice is where someone here said to leave your story for a couple of weeks, then come back with fresh eyes.  I have come to realise that when I read a really good short story by someone, I have no idea what it read like originally; what they took out, added etc.  the hardest part of writing when you're a novice, I've found, is knowing that there's no need to include all the fabulous phrases etc all in one story just because they're fabulous! Save them for another story! Hope that makes sense! Good luck!
  • Thanks everyone, I've started moving forward in my story again. Your advice has really helped.
    It's great to know that there are so many writers willing to help.
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