I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perfection.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a wonderful blog post last year about how the pursuit of perfection can actually harm your writing. Her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, also a great blogger on the business of writing, says (and I’ll paraphrase here) that you have to reach a point where you call the work finished and then stop caring about making it perfect. Unless you are a writer, you probably don’t understand how difficult that is. We’re taught from our earliest school days to strive for perfection. Personally, I was never satisfied with myself in school unless I was making A’s. B’s were like the ugly step-sister – good, but certainly only second-best. C’s made me feel as though I was already failing, and anything below a C was just plain devastating. College was the same, and I remember ripping open the envelope with my grades after my first semester at college, seeing all A’s, and bursting into tears in relief.
So going to a mindset where everything doesn’t have to be perfect is almost like telling me I can sprout wings and fly across town. What if someone reads my story and finds a major flaw in the plot? What if one of my characters says something in Chapter 2 and then completely contradicts herself in Chapter 10? What if the sentence structure in that one paragraph on page 170 is stilted or awkward? What if, what if, what if?
You know what? The world’s not going to end. I’ve had these fears lately about the newest book I’m about to unleash on my beta readers. There was a lot of research involved, and naturally I’m afraid I’ve missed something. If I have, hopefully my readers will catch it before it goes to final edits. Even if they don’t, all I can do is remind myself that I wrote the best possible story I could at that point in time. Then move on to the next book. It’s a learning process.
You see, the time to care is when you’re writing. When you’re creating story. That’s when you have to do your best. But caring about your story isn’t the same as trying to make it perfect. It will never be perfect. I look back on August and Drum and think, sure there are phrases or details I could rework, or sections I could rewrite, but I won’t. Because I’ve moved past those stories. I did the best I could when I was writing them. That’s all anyone can do. Ten years from now I’ll look at The Island or The Killing Vision and think the same thing. Once the book is out, it’s finished. No more rewriting. Move forward. Or as Dean says, stop caring.
In reality, that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. It’s also a very freeing thing. The pursuit of perfection can stifle your creativity. It’s impossible to allow the creative side of your brain to take control if the critical side is constantly acting as overseer and second-guesser. And if you can’t let go of a story you can’t go on to the next. I’ve really worked on that all through 2013, and I have written more in the past twelve months than I have in the prior ten years. Stopping the critical voice while I’m in creative mode, knowing when to stop finagling around with the plot or details and send the story out into the world – all of that has unleashed a tide of creative juices. It’s been a great ride.
In book news, the illustrations are now finished for Brock Ford. At least two of the paperbacks will be released before Christmas. I’m eager for my readers to see these handsome drawings Brian Bowes has created. I think you’ll agree, he has really brought these stories to life. Stay tuned to the usual places – here, Facebook, and Twitter – for more info on release dates, etc. Also, join the mailing list on my Contact page and be among the first to learn about my new books.
Thanks for stopping by. See you next month.