Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So How Do You Know?

In the comments section of the previous post, some wise readers (hiya Marijke and Carleen!) noted that yes, you absolutely should aim to send out the best version of your work but that some writers are unable to stop tinkering, paralyzed with the thought that they could always improve their writing, and thus they never submit or send anything out.

And they're absolutely right. So this raises the very good question of how you toe the line between being overly neurotic and exercising enough caution that you produce a polished manuscript. I'm not sure that I have a good answer because this is something that I've learned on the job by having the very good fortune of having a wonderful agent and wise editors, all of whom have taught me how to pinpoint weak spots and really crappy writing. But, if I'm going to make my experience more universal, maybe one good gauge is to have a writing partner whom you trust, and if he or she deems it worthy, then indeed, you have to trust him or her and send that baby out the door.

The thing is, is that there will always be ways and places to improve your work. If you think that I don't spot sentences in The Department that make me cringe, you'd be dead-wrong. Hell, there are entire passages that I can't believe I actually wrote, but I have to let that go. Because I could spend my life fine-tuning and there would still be new places to's sort of like tweezing: tug out one stray eyebrow hair, and you'll find another just as quickly. So for me, as long as my figurative eyebrows are in place, I know that I have to step away and let others work their magic...which in my case, means turning it over to more objective readers who will help me tweak the areas that need to be tweaked.

But what about you guys? How do you know when you're good to go? And how do you step back and gain perspective?


Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

good morning!

I don't have any set rules about if something is good to go. I have one of two criteria that are the mainstays though:
One - it's due *NOW* and I don't have time to tinker with it any more and Two - every now and then, I just know that something is as right as I can make it. I hit send and am pleased with myself. However, I cannot resist the temptation to open the document that I just sent and then I find several areas where I think, "damn, I should have done/written/deleted/moved/changed.....

How's that for definite?

Jen A. Miller said...

When I get to the "I'm reading but not really reading" phase, I turn it in. You get to the point where you've seen in 12 times and can't spot anything new -- then see it a month later and go "my GOD, how could I have missed that?!" That's what editors are for!

Walt Whitman changed his poems throughout his life, and I know a lot of scholars believe for the worst (one of my graduate professors said the only thing he improved were the titles).


Carleen Brice said...

My friend Marisol gave me this quote from Picasso: "I don't finish my paintings. I abandon them." It helped.

Anonymous said...

I do my best and step away, if I have time. I have a few people who read my work and comment, but not too many. You're right, things can always be better -- but sometimes (and I don't mean it in a bad way) it's excellent as-is and that's good enough.

Anonymous said...

Carleen - I LOVE that quote; so apropos.

I've been changing/sending out my first baby for far too long. Yet every time I get ready to abandon it for good, some agent requests more.

What has saved my sanity is working on a second project - it's a great distraction and it gives me the will to keep writing when I get another rejection on the first manuscript.

kate hopper said...

I think it's amazing what time will do for my editing. I can see so much more clearly if I haven't looked at a piece of writing for a couple of months. This process can't go on indefinitely, though, or I'll be dead before my first book sits on a book shelf. So at some point you DO just have to let it go.