This is one of the biggest problems for many authors when completing a creative writing project.
I make several editing passes just for grammar (delete all those unnecessary “-ly” words; change passive verbs to action verbs), consistency (oops – the age I refer to on page 10 doesn’t match the age mentioned on page 124), and format (I created a style for chapter title, why didn’t I use it here?).
For those of us without a professional editor, we also follow the editing by friends and fellow aspiring authors routine. When the fourth go-round results in something like the following exchange we should probably let our friends off the hook.
“Looks good to go.”
“Did you see that edit on page 38?”
“You know, the one where I completely changed the description.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s fine.”
“So it’s definitely better than the first one?”
“I don’t remember exactly what the first one said.”
“Then how can you say this one is better?”
“Because it didn’t jump off of the page and stab me in the eye!”
Then there’s the editing for perfection passes, typically done by the author alone. We (okay, read “I”) find ourselves modifying SOMETHING everything 10-15 pages or so, just because a conversation, a tone, a description, even a character, isn’t flawless. And, isn’t that an exercise in futility? In my opinion, perfection on every page just is not achievable in the art of creative fiction. If that’s what we strive for, then we all lose.
Perfection is found in the truth of the character arc, the precision with which you have built your world. Perfection is found in the rightness of the conflict resolution of your storyline – and that includes all the strengths and weaknesses, the imperfections of your characters.
Truth, precision, rightness…when you find that, you are DONE.