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.
I think unless you’re a hardcore Buddhist, letting go is difficult for most people. You’re basically tossing parts of your past and that can be sad and unsettling. Although once you get past the initial scariness, it can also be liberating. We’ll (meaning *me*) need to do this when we get ready to move.
I think once you get used to seeing your name in print and know that others like your work, you’ll have an easier time reading the book without wanting to edit like mad in your head. But you’ll still always want to change stuff – that’s just normal. I’d worry about your ego if didn’t. ;^)
And if there are parts of your book that were edited out that are really worth saving, do it. They may work in another story.
Actually, there wasn’t much worth saving that I cut. It was more the pain of cutting something that had been there for so long. Except the prologue, which I cut in half when I sent my revised draft to the publisher, before editing. I liked that prologue. I like the final one even better, but chopping it down was definitely a challenge. I’m just happy I got to keep the prologue, though. They often seem to be frowned on these days.