“Time heals all wounds.” I don’t know about that, some wounds are pretty deep, but it’s amazing the wounds time can heal in your fiction.
The standard wisdom is that once you draft a story, and re-draft, and edit, and…you get the picture, and you do this however many times are right for you,* you put your story aside for a while, preferably long enough that you can no longer recite it in your sleep and will be able to look at it with a fresh eye. (I call this the “cooling-off period,” like when you leave a pie on the window sill for a cartoon bear to steal.) Then you do some more editing and it’s finally ready to send to your beta readers, if you’re lucky enough to have some.
Well, guess what? That “cooling off” period is never enough.
I just finished revising a story which had been through a number of initial edits and which I considered good enough for submission. It went to 18 different magazines, receiving personal rejections and being short-listed more than once, but never bought. (And yes, I know it’s bad form to talk about how many rejections it’s gotten; that’s why I’m not saying which story it is. Honestly, I hadn’t realized how many times it’s been rejected until now.)
So at last I asked a new beta reader to look at it, and the number of things that now appear blindingly obvious, things that I should have taken out, things that I have now added in, is ridiculous. There is so much more to the story now…
And this isn’t the first time this has happened. It happens with every story, even the ones you sell, which is why it might not be a good idea to re-visit your successes. It happened most vividly with one sale that was handed over to an editor after acceptance, not just a copy-editor, but an editor. When she and I were done the story was so much better I couldn’t understand how I sold it in the first place.
So a “cooling-off” period is never enough, because if you wait long enough that you have improved, and gain sufficient objectivity, to refine your story to its peak, the scientific advances you’re writing about will have taken place and you’ll be creating historical fiction. You need help. You need another set of eyes—and not just any eyes. You need someone who (a) understands the field you’re writing in, and (b) loves you enough to be honest. A well-meaning but soft critique is worse than useless. Get used to it. You need a thick skin to do this.
But don’t worry. Time (and sales) heals all wounds.
*There is no one way to write. As long as you are actually writing, your way is the right way.