It might be time for me to take a break from reading some of the how-to writing blogs I read.
Don't get me wrong: those blogs are immensely helpful most of the time. I've learned a lot about what kinds of things are valued and what kinds of things drive agents and editors crazy, and I'm certainly not giving up reading the blogs entirely.
But the new tips that hit my Google Reader almost daily have me paralyzed over my first chapter. I've been over every line till it hurts to look any more, twisting, rewording, restructuring, trying to kill this or that potential problem. I'll think I've got a paragraph or a page or a scene in order, and a day or two later I'm back, fixing something else--and then if I give it a little space and come back, I'll notice that in my desperate attempts to alternate sentence structure within paragraphs and on the page as a whole, I've started five paragraphs in a row exactly the same way.
Among the positive feedback given me by my beta readers were comments on the strength of the story's voice. I don't want to lose that voice, especially not to over-scrupulous self-editing. How do I know it's over-scrupulous? I don't. But I'm the sort of person who can lose reason to obsession over detail--the sort of person to wind up on the verge of tears at 1 AM on a Saturday night, trying to rotate paragraph beginnings and number of commas, wondering how to cut any more conjunctions without sounding like Ernest Hemingway, no longer confident that the scenes and mood accomplish what they set out to do.
Getting published, as I understand it, requires skill and competitiveness roughly equivalent to Olympic-level sport. I'm a good writer, even--I believe--a good enough writer, but there are a lot of good enough writers and no guarantees for anyone. At some point, I've got to accept the fact that it is impossible to please all readers, even all professional readers (like agents and editors).
Am I still going to work on things like repetition issues? Of course. But there's a huge difference between controlling a character's tendency to half-smile at everything and counting the number of ands in every paragraph. I want that sane sense of balance where the goal of perfection doesn't degenerate into perfectionism.