Like most of us, I have difficulty with partings. ”Hello” is much easier than “Goodbye. “ It’s no different when it comes to writing. I am a compulsive reviser , almost unable to let go of what I’ve written. Every time I attend a panel where authors discuss their work, I ask my inevitable question: ”How do you know when it’s finished?”
One well-know writer quipped, “When I can’t stand looking at it anymore.” But some of us never reach that point.
When I surrendered the final manuscript of my first book “Widow’s Walk,” to my agent (only because she ordered me to), I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Logically it wasn’t a loss, of course, but the next step towards seeing my book in print.
But logic doesn’t play a major role in this. It’s similar to the post partum depression I went through after the birth of each of my children. These beings were no longer within me, part of me, but had gone into the world as separate people.
I’m now in the throes of what I claim is the ultimate editing of my novel. Or is ”penultimate” the better word? A next to last that continues to be next to last forever, like the receding horizon as we walk on?
Is it the drive for perfection that makes us unable to let go of what we’ve created? Do we need to be seen as too clever, too talented, to make even one error in our beloved book? Not even an “error,” but a sentence, phrase, word that maybe could be better.
It helps to have a stern editor or agent who orders “Now!” (though publishing tales are rife with examples of famous writers who routinely miss deadlines).
I like the Indian belief that in weaving a rug one thread should always be left unfinished, because only God is supposed to be perfect.
Yet sitting here at my computer, it’s a struggle to remind myself of this. So I share with you what a wise writer said:
“I ask myself, is what I’m doing making this better or just different?”
Learning to give ourselves an honest answer is the challenge for each of us.