Let It Go – Stop Tinkering

hankywave

You have to let your book go at some point

There is always a risk, as a creative person, that you’ll fall victim to one of the worst hindrances outside procrastination, and that’s tinkering. Like a fussy aunt trying to endlessly straighten a picture on the wall, there is an almost-overwhelming temptation to tweak, twiddle, and tease the words that we have spent so long putting on the page. But how much is too much? When do we stop?

Editing any book is a necessity, as is proofing, but to keep on plucking and picking at a book, swapping a word here, enhancing a description there, spraying extra sentences at it like buckshot can be fatal – and addictive. It is, in its way, its own form of procrastination. Does it show a deep desire for unobtainable perfection, or is it just misplaced fear – an unwillingness to move on to the next, often-daunting, phase of the publishing journey?

I know the feeling and the fear. I was (and perhaps still am) an endless tinkerer. Rather than drill down and really focus on doing something productive, I’ve always found it easier to open my manuscript for Rise of the Reaper and idly scan and scroll, tweaking a word here and there. After a few hours I would tell myself that I’d done good work.

Perhaps at first, I was doing good work. But there comes a point where you are tweaking for tweaking’s sake. You start to get nowhere. And for me, this went on. The only things I didn’t adjust with my first version of Rise of the Reaper were things that I had buried my head in the sand about (and would continue to do so for years). After I considered the book finished I still had itchy fingers, dabbing even after I had sent it out to numerous agents.

A decade later, having had the confidence and experience to blow the dust off the book, I decided that it needed more than some tinkering. With ten years of resting time and a fresh perspective, I dove into a full-on re-write. This time, however, I refused to fall back into bad habits., not allowing myself any tweaks until the first draft of version 2.0 was finished. Then I edited it properly before the usual rounds of editing, professional copy-editing, and proofing. But in that perilous gap between proofing and formatting the temptation snagged me. I started again; a tweak here, a description there, until I made myself stop. I was in real danger of derailing the excellent work of my copy-editor and my proofreader by potentially introducing errors and typos. Faced with the prospect of financial loss and the reduction of quality in my book, as opposed to adding anything of arguable worth, I stopped.

 

I don’t think that the urge ever truly goes, and imagine it is the same for an artist, faced with a finished canvas and a palette of still-wet paint. As writers, we will always read over our work and see things to change – whether they are real or imagined problems. But the need to resist has to overrule the urge or we do risk starting to unravel what we have laboured so long over. As indie publishers the temptation is even greater, because there is never a time where the book passes from our control. We still have the power, even once the book has flown into public hands and hearts, to change and tinker.

But with great power comes great responsibility and unless there are genuine issues I think that we – certainly I – need to learn to let go. Nothing is perfect. I will always read over my work and want to pop in a cool hook for something two books down the line, or change something as silly as someone’s eye colour, just on a whim. But I can’t. Well, I can, but I shouldn’t, so I won’t.

For a finished book, tinkering is risky, even time-wasting after a point, but for an unfinished one you’re just slowing yourself down and letting the finish line slip further away.

It is hard to know when to stop, to always have that worry that it isn’t perfect or isn’t right. Art is organic. It is imperfect, which is what makes it sing; what gives it character. The act of creation is a dynamic and ever-changing one, but to damage it or never have that work see the light of day is potentially more damaging than leaving minutiae untouched. Let your work breathe. As hard as it can be … if you love it, let it go.

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