This will be a question for every writer: when to give up. I don’t mean giving up writing altogether, but recognising when it’s been enough, when you can’t improve on a work anymore, to move on.
Like many other writers, I started out writing a novel. I started… and stopped, and started again, but differently, and again and again. Rinse and repeat. As I learned, the novel morphed, and grew, and shrank, and changed. Eventually, I finished it. Then I went and cut out 50,000 words. At that point, the novel was finished, readable and marketable, and I sent it out. I got some useful comments, and revised once more according to a two-page letter from a publisher. I sent it out again. Enter the GFC and many agents are not even replying to queries anymore.
The point is – my novel is finished. It’s been joined on the marketing circuit by other projects. I won’t go back and revise it again, unless someone holds up a publishing contract.
I see so many writers struggling with a novel for what seems like forever. They’ve been working on the same project for years and it doesn’t really appear to be leading anywhere. I felt like that with this particular novel, but I’ve cut myself loose from the treadmill of endless revision. I guess it’s OK to use a novel as a learning project, but once you’ve written the story to the best of your ability, it may just be that the entire premise doesn’t appeal (done-before, derivative, not fashionable, whatever). There are times I’d just like to shout out to writing buddies: for the love of Pete, MOVE ON! Send it out, start something fresh.
The same thing with short stories. There is only so much you can change. If you’re a capable writer, you’ll get the language right on the second or third draft. If your plot needs changing, you’d do it by the second draft. Use the third draft as finetuning, and send it out. Don’t wait for everyone in your writing group to approve it. The law of reviewing is such: you show something to someone and they will comment. After a couple of drafts, you’re editing your piece to death, trying to please everyone