Holly Black talks about pushing her work to the wow level:
But what I find that I need more and more–and need to learn how to do–is a critique that pushes fiction to that next level, that wow level. Like Cecil's admonishment to "look for your inner rage and inner perv," critiquing a competant story is all about seeing its cracktastic potential and about having standards that are higher than good. And it's about finding the great parts of a story and pushing the rest of the it toward those parts.
Marjorie M. Liu agrees, but responds about overworking:
At some point, though, you just need to let go. Accept the fact that maybe, at this point in your writing life, you've hit the edge of what you're capable of – but that by the next book, or the book after that, you'll have hit another level. Growing, growing, gone.
And there's another bad thing about not letting go: the danger of becoming an overly fixated perfectionist who rewrites everything until the story loses whatever essential spark it had in the first place. Might be great writing, but it will have lost all soul. I put "overthinking" into the same category.
Let go, let go, let go. That's the advice I must constantly give myself.
Which is very timely advice. There's a type of story known as the workshop story: it's been critiqued (or self-edited) so much and so continuously that all the shiny has been written out. Shiny, you see, is dangerous: shiny involves taking risks, and pushing yourself. And if you fail at it, or even just fall a little short, a critique will pick up on it. Or else the story has been written for a workshop, sans all shiny even before it's been critted because if there's nothing risky or dangerous in it then the story has a chance at being good. Right? Well, maybe on a technical level, sure. But then the story is safe, and safe stories never excite a range of responses, never excite passion or thoughtfulness. Safe stories are pale on the page.
I've been proceeding at a snail's pace on Salamander lately. I love this novel, but I've spent so much time on it that I'm down to loving the idea of it, and that idea feels completely separate from what I'm writing. Because I know that I am prone to bouts of irrationality when it comes to my writing, I know enough not to trust this feeling just yet. Doesn't make the feeling any less potent, of course.
Last night I dreamt about tearing it all up and starting from scratch (which will not be happening. No no no.) because the scene I've just started is too easy. No obstacles. I glanced away and, the next thing you know, there I am being nice to my characters. This won't do!
I think part of what has been hindering me on this rewrite is that I'm very aware it's a rewrite. In a first draft you can push onwards, leaving notes if need be. But I've already done the first draft, and left the notes: I was hoping this wouldn't require any more rewrites, just revisions. I want this little novel over and crawling out the door. So I'm loathe to leave myself notes for fixing later, because I want it done now.
On the other hand, the first draft I have of this novel is not what you'd call cohesive. Not in the slightest. It starts off okay, but then I wrote the end in a tearing rush to get it done before Clarion, and now the last two thirds are a jumble and a tangle, only glancingly in order. A whole lot of it won't stay, because I've come up with new sequences and new motivations. So I suppose by that standard this is a first draft, a first cohesive draft if you will. And I've been slow because I've hit a point where everything from now one will essentially be new, and yet at the same time I've been writing as if this is a last pass, slow and careful and aching. Yeah, talk about stifling myself.
So I guess it's time to slap myself upside the ear and do as Marjorie suggests: let go, let go, let go.