I was finishing draft five or six of a novel and wondering how many times more I would go through and make changes, when I realized I had best give it up or I might still be working on it when death does us part.
Raymond Carver commented that we know we should quit working on a story when we find ourselves going back and inserting the commas we removed last go through. But he was a short story writer, whom I believe never fulfilled his intention of writing a novel.
Once Dashiell Hammett got mixed up, through Lillian Hellman, with the “literary” set, he spent many years on a novel he never finished, though the part he wrote is mighty well-honed.
I have a friend, the wife of an English professor, who wrote a novel about Sigmund Freud and an “hysterical” patient. During the very early 1980s, she completed a compelling and finely crafted draft. She was ready to submit to agents, but changed her mind when an idea for revision came. The last time I checked, a couple years ago, she was still revising and had still submitted it to no one.
When my friend Alan Russell and I team up for book tours, he tells about the short story I once began and didn’t stop writing until 1500 pages later. But that’s only part of the truth, which is that I have cut and reformed and made those pages into a trilogy, then condensed them into one novel, then expanded again. Though I’ve been working on the project for slightly over half my life, I’m still determined to finish it to my satisfaction.
And there’s the answer for which I’ve been groping. When I’m satisfied, I will give it up.
For now, I will submit this blog post and get back to revising a novel.