‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’
– Leonardo da Vinci
As a writer, you lovingly crafted your characters, endowing them with the kind of sympathetic actions and alluring traits that readers adore, and then those darling creations of yours took over. They shaped their own novelistic futures, took on their own sometimes surprising agency, and shaped the way your story grew.
When you finally finished the first draft, you eagerly went back to the beginning to read the whole thing for the first time. Okay, there were a few bits that needed work, but there were also some parts that struck you with their sheer genius and delightful hilarity. You were quietly thrilled.
Back you went for the second draft, working slowly through the whole thing from front to back, still amused and enthralled by turns at the quality of your writing, and happy to tighten up a phrase here or add, remove, then add a comma there. Really, it was such a pleasure.
Having finished that, you might have sought some feedback from friends and family, and while they were busy being besotted by your brilliance, you went through it again, just to share what they were experiencing, and to remove that comma.
Feedback – overwhelmingly positive but with just a few minor niggles – provided, you set to work on the next draft. Some of the dialogue looks a bit wooden this time. Those witticisms that made you laugh out loud on the first couple of reads barely raise a smile now. And did you really write that? How disappointing.
Teeth gritted, eyes smarting, you finally finish this crucial third draft, and you reckon you’re now ready. Your novel can be set free, whether you’re self-publishing or going cap in hand to publishers because you secretly love the ritual humiliation of rejection.
But wait! There’s one more thing to do: read it again.
Yes, read it again. From the very start, carefully and critically. This time around, be ruthless. If it grates on you, remove it, rewrite it or at the very least put a comma in it somewhere. Scrutinise the dialogue, question the punctuation, analyse the mechanics of every action. Excise where necessary, expand where required, explicate where incomplete. You’re beginning to hate those bastard characters now, aren’t you? They seem so terribly commonplace now, yet so poorly confected, and their actions are oh, so predictable.
You’ve lost all objectivity, you now officially have no idea as to whether the thing is even readable let alone laudable, but still you grind through this read. It’s become a marathon, a challenge, and because you’re bloody-minded, you vow to see it through to the bitter end.
At last, it’s done. You’ve now been through it so many times, there couldn’t possibly be any value in reading it again, could there?
Actually, there could. Just give yourself a few weeks. Go do something else, get it out of your mind, let it escape your consciousness. Then go back and read it again. You might just fall in love again.