There comes a time in every manuscript’s life when it’s time to proclaim it finished. Done. Such a final word, that “done,” isn’t it? It means you’re not allowed to do any more tweaking, no more massaging the words to make them come out nicer. It’s time to let go and let those words, imperfect as they may be, go out into the world and become something separate from you.
While you’re writing and rewriting, those words are a part of you. They represent your thoughts, and therefore, they represent who you are at that exact moment in time. But eventually, no matter how insecure you feel, it’s got to be time to send those words out of the nest and see how they fly.
If you’re writing for an audience, then you know the feeling: the moment that you decide your work is ready to show. Exhilarating? Terrifying? Satisfying? Maybe all three.
It’s too easy to hang onto that manuscript for just another day, another week, another draft. It’s a convenient excuse that we suddenly become blocked during the final draft, or that we procrastinate doing the final proofread. We do this because we’re scared that the words we’ve chosen aren’t good enough. They’re not ready. We fear they’re going to leap out of the nest and land on their faces in the mud.
And you darn well could hold onto those words forever, sheltering them from the cruel outside world. You could be just like the overprotective parent who won’t let her teenagers date (they’re “too irresponsible,” “too immature,” “not ready”).
Let your teenagers date. Let those words fly. Realize that no writer ever feels 100% confident in every word he or she writes. I’ve never written a piece that I feel is perfect—something that conveys exactly what I intended it to convey, completely and concisely. And yet, I’ve written hundreds of finished pieces. They’re not perfect, but they’re done. I had to find the courage to let each of them go.
It is a courageous act; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Writing is enormously risky. Every time you send your work out into the world, it’s like you’ve just left the house without your skin on. You’re an open nerve ending. (“If they don’t like it, I’ll just diiiiiie.”) But have you ever died of criticism or rejection before?
In our profession, there are no “rights” and “wrongs.” 1+1 doesn’t equal 2. We can’t take a test and score 100% and therefore know that we’ve now mastered the craft of writing. A car mechanic knows when he’s done because the engine runs smoothly again. A dentist knows when he’s done because the cavity is filled. A writer, on the other hand, never has a natural ending point. There is no 5:00 whistle that tells us it’s time to pack it in. We just make that decision, quietly to ourselves, when it feels we’ve written all we need to write.
Acknowledge to yourself that you may never believe your work is perfect, but that you’re going to have to resign yourself to stopping sometime so you can move on to a new project. There won’t ever be enough time for you to write everything that’s in you to write, so use your time wisely. Don’t spend too much time agonizing over each word; rewrite until you’re proud of what you’ve written, then move on.
When you look back at your work later, you’ll undoubtedly find things to criticize—“How could I not have seen that before? What a redundant passage!” Do your best to give yourself credit; what you wrote merely represented you at that particular moment in time, not the eternal “you.” The eternal “you” still has lots of chances to get it just right.
And maybe there will be no defining work; maybe you’ll discover that your greatness came in bits and pieces, spread out over a lifetime of imperfect writing. But until you’ve found the courage to be finished with something, you’ll never amass that lifetime of writing; you’ll never gain perspective on your talent as a whole if you spend forever on just one project.
Take that leap of faith and let yourself see the project through to the very end. Don’t put off that final proofread; make yourself do it, hard as it may seem to stand so close to the finish line. Give yourself the reward of closure, and celebrate the dedication it took to get to the end.
And now, my dear writing comrades, I’m done.
Jenna Glatzer is the author of OUTWITTING WRITER’S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN, available at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htm. She is also the editor-in-chief of Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com) and a friend to small furry creatures everywhere.