I’m a pack rat, I admit it. I have boxes of letters, school papers (really, some brilliant ones from college), and old toys (if only I hadn’t opened and played with those Star Wars toys I could sell them and quit my day job), and don’t get me started on the boxes of various drafts of my book. Some of these drafts are wildly different from the final version, not to mention embarrassingly bad. A couple years ago, when I thought the book was “finished,” I purged a lot of the hardcopy comments from my critique groups. But I still managed to keep one, okay, maybe two boxes, plus the stack on the floor of my office. Now that the book is finished and will soon be in print, I know I should make a big recycling trip. No need to save something that is no longer relevant. Even if all my computers crashed and my backup files were lost, why would I want really old drafts? At this point, I’ve read the book so many times I could probably rewrite it from memory.
Letting go of the book itself, however, is hard. I’m a perfectionist. I can spend an hour laboring over a paragraph, trying to get just the right words and rhythm. The final editing process took a lot longer than I thought and was a lot harder than I expected, but I know the final product is a darn good book. I just don’t want to read it. I’ve read through it I don’t know how many times over the past few months. Finally, I had to let it go. I could probably spend another two months “perfecting” the book and it still might not be perfect enough for me. But it’s being published. Soon I’ll be able to hold a copy of my book and display it on the shelf, proud to have accomplished my dream of seeing it in print. Other people will read it and hopefully enjoy it. Maybe in six months I might want to open the book and read it again.
How do you know when to let a manuscript go? Do you finally lay it aside and move on to the next project, or do you keep tinkering with it, as I’ve done? I wonder if authors can create a “director’s cut” of their book, like so many movie directors seem to be doing these days. Here’s the book I really wanted to write, with all the pieces the editor suggested I cut because they slowed the flow. On second thought, there’s a reason why we have editors. I guess I’ll have to get cracking on my next book instead.