George Lucas, Kenny Rogers, and the Trials of Revision

know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

A wise man once sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

This advice is as useful in terms of writing and revision as it is, one would assume, in terms of gambling (I trust Kenny).

But how do you know when to hold or when to fold them? How do you know when it’s time to stop revising something—even if just to step away from the story for a while—and when to make yourself put your proverbial butt in your chair and just keep plugging away?

I feel like George Lucas sometimes, not knowing when to stop. Sure, he could have maybe skipped the last Star Wars trilogy and the world would have been a happier place. But even more unforgivable to me is that he went back and tinkered with the original trilogy instead of knowing when to when to walk away.

So the revisions do things like take a great scene with a handful of Rebel pilots (Luke included) headed out to try to defeat that Goliath that is the Death Star—and make it look like a whole air fleet of them are attacking instead.

And it loses something—something important, I’d argue. Drama, suspense, a true sense of just how much the Rebel Alliance was outgunned and outnumbered, and yet prevailed despite that.

Way to wreck a perfectly awesome scene, George Lucas.

So, I worry as I revise. Sometimes, I think I’ve made a scene dramatically better. Other times, I fear I’ve just made the attack on the Death Star fall flat.

In the end, though, I fall back on Kenny Rogers once again: “You never count your money, when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.” I’ll keep plugging away, and with each new version of this story perhaps I’ll be able to see more clearly when it’s time to dig back in, and when it’s time to step away!