Well, I'm not sure how the food theme developed for this series, but oh well. I was originally going to borrow the phrase "Stop picking at it!" for this post, but a whole blog about not picking at your scabs would be kinda gross. Besides, who wants to compare their completed manuscript to a gaping wound? So, it's back to the cooking metaphors!
If there's one thing I've learned from cooking over the years, it's that at some point, you need to stop trying to trick it up and just stick it in the oven. You're more likely to ruin the dish than do any good, and if you don't cook it at some point, you're going to starve. (Insert requisite "starving artist" joke here.)
There are many reasons why we keep fiddling with our manuscript long after we should, but there are two primary ones. We'll look at both of them.
The first reason people tend to keep poking at the book is a sense of perfectionism. There is the expectation, I think, that our manuscripts must be perfect before we give it to any other living soul. We get that expectation both from agents and ourselves. Agents say that your manuscript should be free of errors. That's true. However, that doesn't mean you should obsess over every single thing.
Here's what you should do. Go into Word and turn on the style checker [authors note: leave a comment if you don't know how and I'll walk you through it]. That'll go through the manuscript with a pretty fine-toothed comb. If you've read and reread through your book several times, then between those two things, your book should be ready to send to an agent. Remember, an editor is going to look at this thing too. They'll help you clear up any other minor errors. Don't wait months on end because you're afraid you have a stray comma somewhere.
The second reason people continually work on their novel is, I think, more common. It's fear. As authors, our work is like a child or something. It's something we've sweated over and worked hard perfecting. A rejection of our manuscript is a rejection of us. If the book sucks, we suck. So, we tell ourselves that maybe if we spend one more month on it, maybe then it won't be so scary sending it out there. Maybe then we won't get the rejections (or any more rejections). Even if the novel is just a poorly-executed dish, we're there furiously adding seasonings, hoping somehow to save it.
Well, either way, the response is the same. At some point, you need to just stick it in the oven. Bad or good, you can't do anything more for it now. If it flops, it flops. If it wins, it wins. The only way you'll know is to just cook it already and see.
Oh, and PS: Don't forget to check out WriteOnCon, an awesome free online conference for children and young adult writers. Click on the ticker on the right to visit the site and learn more!