Let it simmer
Okay, so your first draft is done. You have written your masterpiece. You’re aware that now begins the honing and chipping to get everything just so. But you’ve read it over and read it over again, and apart from a few tweaks it seems fine. But is it really?
One thing teachers and my mother always told me when it came to editing – leave it for a bit. Of course, then it mostly applied to schoolwork – essays and their ilk, so it was not always practical to leave the work and not look at it for a while, especially if it was a last minute job! But it does help to file it away somewhere for a couple of weeks; a month if you can, and let it simmer.
The problem is you’ve had your head right in it for weeks (or months for longer projects), and you’ve completely lost your objectivity. Ideally you should be coming at it as if it’s someone else’s work (I don’tknow about you, but I always find it easier to edit someone else’s efforts), as if you are reading it for the first time. Now, it may be impossible to reach that ideal, but you can get pretty close. You will find a lot more things to change and it will be a better piece of work because of it.
I reckon the best time to do it is when you think the work is finished. Do a quick round of editing perhaps, to pick up anything obvious, and when it feels like you’re just about done, put it away. It’s not like you’re going to be twiddling your thumbs for the next month – start a new project. Keep reading, keep writing. This may go on for several rounds. I like to do one extra round just in case anyway, but if you’ve made sweeping changes, re-written whole pages, you might want to check that they still ring true after another month.
Who amongst us does something similar? How long do you leave your work for, and do you show people before or after you’ve finished editing? Are there any other ways you can think of to get that objectivity back?