Quite a few of the writers I know have a tendency to edit their work beyond death and well into the hereafter. There’s certainly no shame in wanting your work to be as good as you can make it. That’s a tremendously noble goal, and one I wish every writer aimed to achieve. But at some point you have to step away from it, admit you’ve been changing the same sentences over and over again, and let the damn thing crawl outta the nest!
I imagine most of this hesitation to release a fledgling is based on inexperience. This could be a first novel, a cherished short story, or a particularly poignant memoir. It’s obviously important to you or you wouldn’t have labored over it so long and hard. But it’s more than likely among the earliest of your efforts. You want it perfect. You don’t want anyone to see it until you’ve smoothed out every sentence, agonized over every syllable of dialog, tweaked and twiddled every possible nuance.
The thing is, until you’ve written a couple million words (give or take a few hundred thousand), you likely aren’t skilled enough to recognize what ought to be tweaked and twiddled, and what ought to be left the hell alone! And that’s perfectly okay–you’re a newbie after all. How could you know everything? I’ve been at this stuff for decades, and I sure don’t know all there is to know about it. Far from it. But thankfully, I have picked up a few things here and there.
Do the best work you’re capable of, and try not to expect more of yourself than any reasonable person would. Then set it aside for awhile–maybe a couple weeks or even longer; a month or two wouldn’t hurt–then coax it from its cage and read it out loud, with feeling. Every. Single. Word. And do it in a dramatic fashion, as if you had an audience of film makers who want to experience each of those nuances over which you labored so diligently. What you’ll discover is that most of it is pretty darned good. It works. It resonates. Yes, there are spots that are a little thin, but if you take the time to highlight ’em while you’re reading it’ll be a simple matter to go back and address them.
Then it’s on to your First Readers. I put the title in caps because what they do is so important. They’ll find the nits and wrinkles that you–the writer–just can’t see. Provided you have a good rapport with them, the feedback you get will be priceless. They will make it possible for you to walk your baby right out the door into the big, scary world.
The trick is to find good First Readers. In most cases, these are not people you live with or to whom you’re related. They aren’t folks you work with unless you’re of the same rank. Subordinates and superiors should always be left out of the mix. You need people who know at least a little something about writing. And, they need to know you’re more interested in the truth than you are in having them make you feel good. Get that nonsense out of the way NOW!
Then read the feedback, make the changes YOU think are reasonable, and mark the work “done.” Take your significant other or best pal out for dinner or ice cream, or whatever is most appropriate, and celebrate your success. You’re finished! It’s done!
And now it’s time to go back to the other project you started while this one cooled off. Rinse and repeat. Write and succeed.