Some writers revise a great deal: they might write a dozen or more drafts before they're happy. They may end up by returning to their first idea, but it will be enriched by the other drafts they've written. Many writers say that revision is the part of writing that they most enjoy: they've got the raw material and they can enjoy the process of transforming it continually until it's right.
Other writers revise very little, at least on the page. For such writers the revision process goes on in their heads so that by the time they come to write they've worked through various alternatives in their minds and can go straight to a finished version. My own feeling is if you're new to writing, revision will always improve your work. And apart from improving the finished product, revision is a way of exploring options that might turn out to be much more dynamic than the original ideas.
People sometimes talk of writing that's 'overworked', that's been re-worked and re-written in such a way that it's lost its original energy. Don't let the threat of overworking your piece prevent you from revising it. Two ways to make sure overworking doesn't happen are:
There's certainly a point where you reach a stalemate with a story. That doesn't mean it's finished: it just means you've reached the limit of your present writing skill. When you've learned more, by writing more, you may then return and finish it.
When does revision come to an end? Only when it's too late to make any more changes: when the story is set in print.
In an interview in The Paris Review, E.L. Doctorow tells of the time he had to write a school absence note for his daughter. He sat down, pen in hand, and began: 'My daughter Caroline . . .' and stopped. How silly, he thought, why say that, of course they know she's my daughter. Again he began: 'Please be advised . . .' no, much too formal. He started again. The paper around him piled up, his daughter fidgeted, the school bus arrived, and finally his wife had to step in, snatch away his pen and scribble off a quick note, all to stop her husband from trying to create, in his words, 'the perfect absence note'. Was he crazy? No - just a writer doing what all good writers do, which is to devote themselves to revising their work, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, draft by draft, in order to make it - school absence note or War and Peace - the best possible work it may be. Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz has called revision 'the senseless desire for perfection'. Desire it is, but senseless it's not, as this book will try to show . . . The third thing needed - and just as necessary as talent and craft, especially if we take to heart the adage that art is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration - is a devotion to revision, to a merciless re-working of your writing until it is the best it can be, stylistically, conceptually and dramatically. The very sensible desire for perfection. Because believe me, talent and craft will only get you so far ...