Writing Woes: When is it good enough?

You’ve finally finished that first draft…so now what?

Sound the trumpets and summon all the literary Book Gods-the first draft has finally been completed! After countless hours, days, weeks, months, and oh Dear God—years, I’ve finally cranked out what I believe to be the equivalent of a J.K. Rowling masterpiece. So what should I do now? I should find myself a good, reputable editor and get this baby published! That’s what. Only, I should probably give it a good once-over to make certain everything is right and tight—no spelling or grammar errors, no run-on sentences, inconsistencies, blah-blah-blah. I’m a perfectionist darn-it, and I need everything to be perfect. As I begin my inspection, my eyes narrow, my brow crease, and my lips purse of their own accord. This can’t be right. That sentence is all wrong…it should be re-worded. Why is my heroine musing so damn much? For pete-sake, she’s told her entire life story in the first paragraph! No, no, no–for the love of everything literary, this must be changed! And so it starts…the seemingly never ending, often gratuitous, and downright repetitive process of the rewrite.

When I began college (long ago), my very first English professor said something that has always stuck in my head. “You write to rewrite,” he’d stated to the class at large. Even though I didn’t fully understand his meaning at the time, years later, it’s one of the few things learned in college that I can say truly stuck. Over the years, I came to understand the professor’s meaning. Cranking out anything worthy of being read requires countless revisions. Who hits it out of the park the first try? Sure, it’s possible—but not at all likely. Anything worth doing—and doing to the best of our ability, takes blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, so maybe it just feels like I’ve had an open wound that was never stitched, and that I’ve been doing Hot Yoga in a plastic sauna suit—and that my red, runny eyes from lack of sleep are actual tears. YOU GET MY POINT! Creating something that’s great, something that’s worthy of being read; something that we can be proud of takes a lot of hard work. But do we often go round and round with the revisions? Do we scrutinize and second-guess until we find ourselves re-writing the entire darn thing? Several times!

Yes…I’m guilty of having done exactly this. During the writing of my book, I’ve written, rewritten…and re-rewritten (making up my own word here). I’ve done everything—from completely changing the plot, scenes, characters, language, prose, and probably much more. Every time I did a pass-through, I found something that needed fixing—something that could be much better. Nearly three years later; from when I originally started writing, I’ve drawn several very enlightening conclusions. 1: I likely could have completed my book a year ago, 2: I second-guess myself too much, and 3: I’m my own worst enemy—in that I’m a perfectionist. Sure, a lot of my revisions were essential and improved the overall story and quality of my work, but I can admit to myself now—at the end stage, that I probably made my own process a lot more tedious than necessary.

What follies have you experienced during the writing process? Do you find yourself constantly rereading and rewriting the same scenes? When is enough, enough? At what point do we decide our story is good enough?

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