If you peek into your desktop history and pull out a piece you wrote three years ago, I almost grantee that it will be an excruciatingly painful read. If it isn’t then kudos to you for having a high tolerance for regressive writing. You’re supposed to cringe when reading an old piece because somewhere between when you wrote that piece and now, you have grown and developed as a writer (if not as a human being). These changes can make it difficult to finally put your piece in an envelope and mail it out to a publisher. I’ve gone through several cycles of seemingly endless revision, and have fallen into the trap of working on a piece that has long since passed it’s due date (I’m currently in this trap) for fear of it not being good enough. But, quite frankly, nothing will ever be good enough. We will never be content and thankfully so because complete contentment would halt the progression of mankind. All you can do is work on what you’ve got and when you’ve hit three or four revisions, perhaps let it go and send your work to out to the world. You can always redeem yourself with your next piece.
“As writers, we’re constantly learning new things about the craft. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been scribbling for years, ideally you will always be growing as a writer. The downside to that is that you will invariably find things to improve in the work you’ve done. The key is to not let that stop you. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep writing. Finish what you start, and move on to the next project—it will inevitably be better than the last.
If you’re working with a group, set some guidelines: You’re allowed to revise a story two or three times, for example, before you send it out to an editor or submit it for publication somewhere. Once you’ve gotten some outside feedback, you can regroup and look at it again. The same goes for novels—don’t get caught up revising the same twenty to twenty-five pages your group has critiqued over and over again, ultimately neglecting the rest of the novel. Take the notes your group gives you, and move onto the next chunk of the book. Strive for greatness, but forget perfection. Finish your story. Let other people read it. Take their feedback, integrate the lessons you’ve learned, and revise accordingly. Then, move on.”