Finding the happy medium where a story is good enough

It’s the weekend and I feel a bit lazy, so I’m going to provide a few links to other people’s thoughts about how much time and effort you should put into your novel, story, what-have-you.  As anyone who has tortured themselves reading this blog for any length of time knows, I’m a firm believer in making things good enough, but not perfect.  (See The A- Student Approach to Life)

Partially, this is because, at heart, I am a perfectionist.  I’ve been known in my professional life to read something I wrote a month or so after the fact and say, “What idiot wrote this?  Look at the formatting on that footnote on page 23.  I’m pretty sure that number is in Times New Roman and the others are all in Arial.”  (At which point I realize that I wrote it and that I’m to blame for the formatting of the footnote on page 23.)

And maybe you would think that that’s an example of how I should spend more time on things the first go round.  But we’re talking about a report that went through four or five rounds of revisions by at least three people.

Nothing is perfect.  Ever.  At some point, you have to let go and move on to the next project.  In my day job – does my client care that the footnote on page 23 isn’t in the same font?  Not likely.  Odds are 99% of the people who read that report, won’t even notice.  Would my client care if I failed to deliver that report in time for the quarterly board meeting because I was reviewing it for the twentieth time just in case there were some minor formatting issue that I’d overlooked the first nineteen times?  Hell yes.  Would my client also care if the report for the board included spelling errors, incomplete sentences, or presented ideas in an incoherent spew?  Oh yes they would.

It’s about finding balance.  I beat myself up for every little mistake I notice, so I try to keep them to a minimum.  But I also know that at some point I need to let go and move on if I’m ever going to accomplish anything.

There’s a point where you have to stop working on the current project and move on to the next.  (A good reminder for me as I contemplate the first feedback for my novel and want to go tear it apart even though the feedback was generally very positive and the critique so far is just one person’s opinion.)  (Must wait for more feedback.  Must work on next project instead.)

So, without further ado – smarter people than me talking about similar issues:

Marcia Yudkin on In Praise of Ripening

“…most of us improve in writing, as in music or acting or gymnastics, only when we have concepts for understanding what we’re doing and direction from those more experienced.”

“And by skipping writers’ workshops, classes or critique circles, you miss out on a crucial wake-up call that every author needs in order to mature as a communicator. This is the shock of discovering that what you meant in a certain sentence, paragraph or passage of your writing did not come across as you intended, and maybe even came across as the opposite of what you meant.”

“As the current trend spreads, we risk having literary marketplaces that are drowning in unripened works, making it harder for superb new writers who deserve attention to find readers.”

Lois H. Gresh on Rewriting Treadmills: Traditional Publishing versus E-Publishing

 “Everybody knows at least one writer who edits the same story for years.  The material is never good enough, the author is afraid to send it to editors, the author desperately wants to become the next JK Rowling or Stephen King.  If everything is rock-solid perfect, or so the author thinks, then it’s a no-brainer that the novel or story will sell to a top market, hence establishing the author as a Big Name who earns Big Bucks.

These are myths that turn writers into hamsters on treadmills, rewriting the same material over and over again.”

“Yes, edit your own material.  Yes, set it aside until you can read it ‘cold’ – assuming deadlines don’t force you to edit it more quickly.  However, know when to get off the treadmill and move on.”

And, last but not least, Kristen Lamb on The Secret to Success-Quitting

“I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.

“The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail.”

“People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted. Everything is the enemy.”

“We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.”

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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