Pitfalls of Perfection

Perfectionism is often a curse, especially when it comes to publication. The quest for perfection can prevent us from sending that query letter or hitting the publish button on Amazon. It can leave us trapped in a vicious cycle of edits and rewrites. We want our work to be the best it can be, but when do we decide to let our manuscript move on to the next step in the publication process? Often fear of failure presents itself under the guise of perfection and when we tell ourselves we don’t want to publish until our work is flawless, what we really mean is that we’re afraid our work won’t measure up–that we won’t measure up.

How do we know when our manuscript is ready to query or publish? Many authors, publishers, or writing coaches can offer suggestions, but deciding to publish is a highly personal decision.

When I first began writing, I wanted to hurl my first draft out to agents the moment I finished typing “The End.” After rejections, suggestions from critique partners, and the experience I’ve gained, I’m a bit more hesitant when it comes to letting my baby leave the nest. Maybe too hesitant. I tend to hold on to manuscripts forever and I’ve concocted an elaborate editing/rewrite ritual. With each manuscript, the editing process lasts longer and becomes more elaborate. At the rate I’m going, the manuscript I finished in December won’t be ready for publication until 2026. Yeah, it’s starting to get out of hand.

Writers, how do you determine a manuscript is ready to query or publish? What is your editing process?

14 thoughts on “Pitfalls of Perfection

  1. Nothing is ever really finished, so the point lies somewhere between satisfaction and sanity – and each person must decide where the balance is acceptable. I edit and rewrite until sanity starts to take a back door, then I sneak out through the front door and asks someone impartial. Maybe that’s passing the buck, but who gives a crap?

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    • You are absolutely right, George. Even with The Claiming Words which is already published, I find things I would like to do differently. You never feel like you’re finished because as you continue to write and (hopefully) improve your skills, you apply that new knowledge to previous books and see room for improvement.

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    • That’s a great article with great advice. I usually do a read-through after I finish a manuscript and correct anything glaringly obvious. Then I leave the MS for a while to give myself from distance.When I go back to it, I do an extensive edit/rewrite. Reading out loud is helpful, but a friend of mine (thanks, Michel) told me to upload the book to my Kindle and utilize the text-to-speech feature. Wow! It really makes a difference. I found lots of errors my mind skipped over in previous edits.

      Good luck with your book, Cindy, and thanks for sharing the article.

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  2. I write articles rather than books but do have a similar issue where I want to have it just right before hitting the submit button. I think we just have to say at some point enough is enough. We can even make it worse if we get too much inside our heads!

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  3. I used to write by the seat of my pants and learned the hard way that I’m not a good enough writer to do that. So now I just get the words down and when I’ve finished, edit it three times – no more – no less, then I go for it.

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    • I’m a pantser, but I’m not a good enough writer to pull it off either, so many of my edits are extensive rewrites. I outline on the back end of writing. During edits, I have a chapter-by-chapter spreadsheet and I ask myself by chapter, “Does this move the story forward or show character development?”

      I’m glad you found a method that works for you. I guess every author needs to find their own system.

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  4. We do. I tend to ask others for advice when something doesn’t sound right. As well as edit each chapter while thinking does what I wrote make sense with the previous chapters that I’ve already written. As well as when in doubt, ask someone else to see if it all makes sense. 😉

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  5. I’m still working on trying to find that balance. I find that, with time, I’m editing more than I ever have. I like to think that it is a sign of caring about the work. I know it can’t be perfect, but it has to be something that I am proud of. Taking extra time is worth it to me. Otherwise, it’s too much work to create something that’s only half-hearted.
    –JW

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  6. Lol!!!! I’m the LAST person who should give advice on this…White Mountain took over 10 years to write with long periods of leaving it alone and returning. I edited it at least 100 times til I got utterly word blind and sick of the process. Yeap…not a good example, eh? And yes, being a perfectionist, which I am, is a crippling thing. Yes it can lead to great quality writing, thorough research etc BUT it can, if you let it, stifle that creative spontaneity which can create the best writing. Perfectionism can often lead to over-writing, self conscious word choices, again, a stifling of spirit. That’s why it’s essential to leave it alone for long periods to give you objectivity. Yeap, definitely not a good person to give advice! 😀 xx

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  7. Nothing is ever perfect. There comes a point when you just have to let your writing go. If you spend too much time editing and re-writing, you’ll never even publish it. It seems a waste of time to write a book and then never publish it because you want it to be perfect.

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