I had the remarkable good fortune of belonging to not one, but two productive writing workshops led by brilliant mentors. I spent years having my work critiqued by other writers, and while I learned a lot along the way, none of those lessons was more important than this one:
If you think it needs to be fixed, it does.
If you’ve ever gotten dressed and asked your friend or partner, “Can I get away with this?” Then you already know what I mean. If you have to ask, then the answer is no. If you think something in your work might not be where it needs to be yet, then it isn’t.
Before each workshops, I combed over my submission obsessively. I didn’t want the readers distracted by grammatical errors or things that I already knew needed to be fixed. My theory was that in order to get a meaningful critique, I needed to present the work in its best possible form. That being said, there were times I’d run into a description that didn’t quite fit the point of view character’s world view, a metaphor that didn’t quite work, a logic gap that needed to be closed. And I’d leave it.
Why? Because the solution didn’t come easily to me. Because I hoped I was being overly critical and no one else would see it as a problem. Because I was afraid to bear down and do the work, lest I discover I didn’t have the skill to find a fix.
Invariably someone would hone in on that very problem. Even after over a decade of going through this experience, I still fall into the “can I get away with it?” habit every once in a while. In the horror novella I’m currently rewriting, I had a beautiful simile that didn’t work at all for the point of view character’s thought process. Because I wasn’t sure I could come up with something equally beautiful but more appropriate, I left it. And my darling readers called me on it.
If you have to ask if you can get away with those slightly too tight in the rear jeans, the answer is no. If you think that landscape description is too long, or that dialogue too stilted, or that imagery out of place, it probably is.
Go write something!