As a rule, I typically do this: if my brain keeps stewing about a work you completed, it’s not complete and you need to revisit it.
I’m not talking about the revision process when a writer is still in the mode of improving a work. I’m talking about after the writer thinks the work is finished. If it keeps bothering you, if something isn’t sitting right, you need to take a second look.
This is an excellent reason to allow a finished work to sit untouched for a while before the writer publishes it or does anything else to it. Time allows the ideas to settle, and time will eventually tell you are not finished.
I came across this issue this past week. I wrote a piece (with a student of mine) this summer, a short play which will be part of my show in December. I thought it was finished, and we’ve actually started rehearsals with the piece. But this week, for whatever reason, I started thinking more about the structure and characters and the more I thought, the more I realized I wasn’t satisfied.
I didn’t really have time for another re-write, but I know me. Once I feel unsettled about a work, there’s no stopping me until I’m satisfied. It’s an annoying trait, but I think it’s a good one.
And so over the last couple of days, I went through two more re-writes, I cut out about 20% of the story, dropped one character completely, reedited many lines and ended up changing the title three more times. I actually sent the new updated script to my actors with one title, but I just changed it again about ten minutes ago.
Writing perfection doesn’t exist. A work is never completely done, it’s typically just abandoned by the writer. But sometimes, a finished work can haunt you until you give in and do the necessary work to improve it. Because that’s what is ultimately important. The process. The small increments of improvement played out over a long period of time.
Don’t settle. Listen to the unsettling voices inside. It will make the work better, and it will make you a better writer.