Two events have me feeling a bit unsettled. Over the weekend I sent out my short story to be reviewed by the members of the writers’ workshop I’ll be attending later in the summer. This morning I returned the proofs of another short story to the editors of the magazine that will publish it in the fall.
When is a piece of writing complete enough to be sent out into the world? I know that I’ve done all I can to both of these stories for now. Last week my head was swimming from looking at them so many times. I could no longer read them and see where change could occur. I could no longer read them, period.
And yet: I did not feel that the story I sent to the writers’ workshop was quite … well, it just wasn’t there yet. I wanted more time to think about it. If I did not have the workshop coming up, I would have put the story away for a few months then come back to it. I would have written another story that included one of the characters from this one, which would have helped me develop that character further in the original story. It’s likely I will still do that. But I know that the raw story is out there somewhere, and while that’s OK (I am, after all, looking forward to getting feedback on the piece, and there needs to be room for feedback) I feel uneasy about it, too.
As for the proofs, I had not looked at that story in several months, and it felt very different to me after all that time. I felt that I could tweak the writing quite a bit. Is there a point at which writers feel they can stop tweaking words here and there? I think that if you’re at the point where you’re just making those kinds of small adjustments it means you’re done, and yet. I made a few small changes to the proofs, not as many as I could have, or wanted to, because I know that the time for lots of changes — just made because I wanted to make them — had passed. I had to let it go. I feel a sense of excitement that the story will soon be published, but at the same time, I’m horrified. How can that story be published?! I want to keep tweaking and adjusting and changing things. But I have to let it go. It’s time to move on to something else.
Do authors ever return to their previous books and wince? Do authors ever return to their previous books at all? I remember when I went to hear Joan Didion read in Boston and she said she never thought about her earlier works or her body of writing as a whole. She dismissed them as if they didn’t exist. “It was just something I wrote,” she said.
When does one get to the point where what you’ve written feels like that, “just something I wrote,” instead of some long process involving lots of anxiety and overprotective feelings and an inability to let go?