This problem is the result of not stepping back from my work. If I paint a watercolor painting, I constantly work up close, then step back to check everything makes sense. I encourage my art students to take breaks and put their work up across the room from them to see it from a distance. Yet when making books, I sometimes neglect this crucial step. Every book on writing says some version of this. Step 1: Write the best book ever. Step 2: Put it in a drawer and forget about it. Step 3: Start a new book. Step 4: Eventually return to your first book after months away, and you will see it wasn't as amazing as you thought. Step 5: Revise like hell and listen to feedback that makes sense. Step 6: Rinse and repeat until the book doesn't stink.
Recently I felt guilty about taking about a month away from a book project dear to my heart. I planned to tackle smaller projects and clear time for the big book project. But the small projects kept dragging on and on, and I finally used up the few weeks of free time I had planned to finish the big book project. I felt guilty and frustrated. But amazingly, the extended time away gave me what I never give to myself–perspective. Suddenly I saw the plot more clearly, and in no time I had thumbnails scrawled across most of the pages. Although I had waited longer to get started, I was actually working faster and with more clarity after the time away.
I point this out only to help other bookmakers, struggling to hammer a manuscript or book dummy into shape. Sometimes all you need is a little time away, and then the work becomes clear. You can see exactly what needs help, as well as what is truly working well.