Last Friday at 3:05PM, I reported to the twitterverse that my house was completely clean. I had mopped, vacuumed, dusted and windexed my backside off. By 3:15, two toddler toys had made their way to the middle of the TV room floor. At 4:00 my oldest sons got off the bus--and that's all she wrote.
Truth be told, however, I had left some dust on the fireplace grate. The substance settled in the bottom of my A/C vents could fertilize every wheat field in Kansas. And that waterproof eyeliner my youngest smeared all over the hall wall? Still there. Upon close inspection, I have to admit that at 3:05 last Friday, my house was not, in fact, as clean as it possibly could have been.
I am editing my WIP ("work in progress" for you new readers who want to learn the trendy jargon) and running into much the same problem. The words are spelled correctly now. The passive voice (actual passive voice, not just variations on "to be") has been made active (and yes, I do realize this was a passive-voice sentence). I cut almost all parenthetical statements (I do love me some parentheses . . . . and ellipses--and dashes!) The time line is clear, the story arc is solid . . .
. . . . and I want to throw this puppy out and start all over again (which would, in fact, make the fourth time I've done so).
How clean is clean? How finished is finished? If I told my husband, "We can't get the eyeliner off the wall, so let's tear down the house and rebuild it," he would lock me away in the mental institution I often fantasize about (seriously--sitting on a bench in front of manicured garden while pretty young women bring me cups of pills. Lovely!)
I'm not going to do that to WIP again, either.
How about you? Writers--when do you know your story is clean enough? Readers--do you ever get the feeling a writer has just tossed a book out there without swishing the metaphorical toilet first?