I've discovered it's much easier to edit a manuscript after watching a few episodes of "Dexter." Dumping three truckloads of stuff during a move helps, too. And so does letting a manuscript chill for a while.
But I've been grappling with this: When does a writer say, Enough! It's done.
I've been reading the book "On Writer's Block - A New Approach to Creativity" by the great Victoria Nelson (who happened to be my adviser last semester). She has this to say about "obsessive rewriting":
"Here I refer to the tendency to kill a living work by repeated surgery, amputations, transplants, and the like under the merciless glare of your analytical (not creative) attention. After many tries you, the mad scientist, produce a patchwork monster that bears little resemblance to your original conception."
Well. I've done that. Though I have to say my patchwork monster is a far better product than my original conception. Or maybe that's just the mad scientist talking.
Nelson says to "consider at least the possibility of putting it aside and moving on."
Now, that's a frightening thought. But it's an important thought, one that makes a good barometer: Am I still working on this book because it's a good story that's changing as I develop better skills and a more critical eye? Am I really making it better? Or is it just the walking dead?
Is it a manuscript? Or should it be a manuscrapt?
Or is there another reason all together why it's chronically undone? Nelson asks the writer to explore other possibilities: a fear of the unknown, of judgment, of emotional attachment connected to the manuscript.
But Nelson also says, "It takes time for an imaginative idea to grow to full term in the unconscious."
And I absolutely love, love, love this bit:
"If you are blocked at any stage in your writing career, the reasons for your resistance must be satisfactorily resolved before you can move ahead and start perspiring; you cannot leapfrog a single stage in your creative development. This natural brake is a great blessing because it compels you to tame an overeager will that must learn painfully and slowly how to adapt itself to the deeper requirements of the psyche."
(Snatch the pebble out of my hand, grasshopper!)
Maybe it's best to keep the book out of the woodchipper for now and see what happens next.