Last week, columnist Jerry Eckert wrote an honest piece about recent comments he received from his critique group. When urged to disclose more about the piece he submitted, Jerry reported it was a manuscript he self-edited several times before and even presented to a professional editor for review. Though he thought he was done with all of the corrections, further critiques resulted in some second-guessing and an urge to go through another round of revisions. Frustration mounting, Jerry wondered when the best time was to stop editing.
I thought about this a few days ago when I examined the rose bushes on the side of my house. I haven't added one ounce of plant food or showered them with life-enriching water. Other than some pruning at the beginning of the spring, I've let nature take its course with these plants. Lo and behold, they're flourishing and giving my family and me some wonderful roses to sniff and admire. Yes, I could have fed and watered them on a regular basis, but too much attention may have resulted in a less vibrant display or, in a worst case scenario, irreversible damage.
What am I trying to say in yet another gardening to writing analogy? There comes a moment
when you need to leave things alone. We writers are perfectionists beyond the most anal retentive of individuals. We can go through our works an infinite amount of times and still find something imperfect to correct, which results in us going back to the beginning of the editing process. Due to this self-editing madness our stories remain in a circle of writing hell, never to see the light of publication. Or, in a worst case scenario, they become so damaged we throw them in the trash or a deep part of the filing cabinet.
There needs to be a moment when our stories have to settle. We need to stop editing, sending our works to editor friends, or submitting the manuscripts to our critique group for review. Mark the story complete at some point, send out your queries, and let the publisher or agent who shows interest in your story suggests any revisions. Trust me, you'll find greater appreciation of your obsessive perfectionism when someone is ready to publish your manuscript. All you'll need to do in the meantime is tamp down the compulsive impatience.
Do you give yourself a limit on how many times you self-edit a story?