3. DON'T DO STUFF WE DIDN'T TELL YOU TO DO.
warning: I had this whole master/slave thing going but abandoned it for reality: this rule is too important and needs to be beaten into the heads of the stubborn.
I'll tell you up front I'm an obsessive compulsive drafter. A misspelled word? I'm on it. A line of dialogue that needs to be planted in the previous chapter based on what I just wrote in this chapter? Scroll it back, baby.
I don't trust myself to remember to fix it. As evidenced by tomorrow, I'm not getting any younger. The old brain cells are fogged by motherhood, age, alcohol, and my hubbin's sexy voice. (he should be in radio; he just doesn't have the face for it). But srsly? Have you ever tried to fix a fucking mess of a manuscript? I have. Never. Again. I do rolling revisions, which mean I go back and roll through my writing as I'm drafting, fixing stuff. I rock the rolling revisions. But only to a point. I have beta readers and editors, you see. I do what they say and move on with my life.
If you're in some sort of revising loop lasting a year or more... especially with no one else seeing the work...I hate to break it to you (lie: actually I LOVE to break it to you) there are only two reasons you need to revise a book fifty times.
1. You're a pussy
2. You don't have the craft. (More on that now.)
Yeah, you read me right. If you're on draft fifteen with way more to do, you need to take a good hard look at why. Actually, I'd submit that if you're on draft FIVE with no end in sight, you need to take a good hard look at why.
Hey, man. I was there. I started the SENTINEL series. It sucked. I wrote on it for years. And then the lightbulb turned on and I realized I wasn't savvy enough on craft to do this fucker justice. SENTINEL is a big story; it's got tons of people and twists and manipulation and broken rules and side angles and other people doing stuff, and...all those technical terms I never use but I know what I mean so fuck you. I dropped it and wrote EXILE, which besides eventually changing the trope portal device, is still quite a lot the way I wrote it back then. Cuz I'd learned, you see! I could write fresh stuff that didn't entirely suck! And when it did suck, my critters told me and I fixed it! (That book went all the way through my crit group, start to finish.)
Can you learn from revising a mess? Um, well, yeah. You can learn from nearly drowning, too. What do you learn? Don't go in the deep water until you can swim.
You can't change Mr. Wrong, no matter how righteous he is in bed.
But you can learn a whole hell of a lot by writing something new. How do I know that? Cuz I did it, over and over, before I went back to SENTINEL. A couple three books. A couple dozen short stories. And then when did finally return to SENTINEL, I rewrote the whole damn thing from scratch.
So here's the rule: Stop. Revising.
Fix the glaring plot holes, run spell check, make sure your grammar isn't all wrong and stupid. And then start on rule #4, right quick-like.