Every writer goes about the revisions process a little differently. Some write terrible drafts first, full of errors and plot holes and missing words, and then go back and clean up their messes.
Some self-edit as they write, constantly stopping to erase those red squiggly lines, hopefully finishing their first drafts with fewer errors and holes and missing elements.
There is no right or wrong way to do it … unless you revise yourself into an endless loop of rewriting.
Here’s why that’s not a good place to trap yourself in: You’re never making as much progress, going over the same lines again and again, as you think you are.
At some point, you have to close the document.
You have to put the final period on the final sentence on the final page and declare your first, or second, or tenth draft finished.
I know you want it to be perfect — or as close to it as possible.
I know there’s a part of you that never wants to be “done.” Facing the ends of things you love is hard, especially when it’s something you created out of nothing.
But you can’t keep changing the tiniest details. You can’t keep rewriting the same chapters over and over, thinking you’ll finally get it right “this time.”
There comes a point at which you have created the best version of a thing that you can create on your own. You have to move on.
That might mean you finally send off your polished, pristine manuscript to a dozen or more agents hoping all your hard work will pay off. It might also mean that you’re ready to dedicate your time to something else, and it’s time to put this learning experience to the side and just let it be.
Whether you end up publishing this thing you’ve been pulling apart and putting back together, or nothing publicly significant ever comes of it, always remember that your work is never a waste. Every word of every manuscript you ever write has something to teach you. As long as you open yourself up to learning everything you can from these experiences, they’re always worth it. Always.
So ask yourself: Do I really need to keep reworking something that doesn’t need any more work at this stage of the process?
Is it really worth the time I could be spending doing something else?
Is it finally time to move to the next step — whatever that step might be?
Saying goodbye is hard. Putting your projects into the hands of strangers is hard. Accepting that you’ve done the best you possibly could — even if your inner critic continues screaming that it’s not good enough, and may never be — is hard.
But all writers must do it.
All writers must let themselves believe their efforts mean something, no matter how big or small.
Put down your pen. Take your hands off the keys. You’ve done well.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.