Although, I’m writing this post on the fifth, I want to wish everyone a happy belated fourth anyway. =o) I meant to do this last night but I was so tired after the fireworks, I went right to sleep. To the left is a picture I took of the fireworks we bought and set off last night. It was super fun! We set down a large blanket on the lawn, drank wine and enjoyed the show.
You know, it’s times like these when I get tired of people bad-mouthing America. I know our country has its faults, like any country, but at least we have the freedom here to do what we want to do, within the law, and make of ourselves whatever we want to make and ultimately be responsible for our own fortunes. I truly believe that there are many Americans out there who just don’t realize that there are many countries in the world where the people don’t have that right. Once you realize that, suddenly you understand what a blessing your civil rights are.
But anyway, moving on. For this post, I want to talk about something that Kris Rusch wrote last week in her Business Rusch series on her website. It was titled Perfection. What was it about? First, she started off talking about a workshop that she taught where she critiqued students’ stories:
At every craft workshop I teach, I make at least one writer cry. This week, I’m teaching a short story workshop for professional writers. These are workshop-hardened folk, people who have been eviscerated by the best of them, people who come to my workshops having heard that I make writers cry, expecting me to be the most vicious critiquer of all.
How do I bring writers to tears? Usually by saying this:
I loved this story. It’s wonderful. Mail it.
That’s my entire critique.
Is the story perfect? Of course not. No story is. Not a one. No matter how many times it’s “polished” and “fixed” and “improved.” No one can write a perfect story.
Her point was that so many writers out there seek perfection with that one book or story that they are working on. In fact, they are taught this in school and it is reinforced when they graduate and attempt to sell their story to that one agent or editor. The agent/editor says: “This is great, but …” and proceeds to have the writer write and re-write and re-write. In doing so, they take a good story and ruin it … completely:
So many writers table perfectly good stories because someone—often someone with power (an editor, a writer with a few novels under her belt, a well-published nonfiction writer)—will nitpick the story to death. Or suggest revisions that will alter the story dramatically. If the story already works, who cares if it has three endings? Those of us who don’t like the story don’t know if the people who loved the story loved it because of those three endings, not in spite of them.
When I became an editor, I learned just how important taste is. The difference between the short stories in Analog and Asimov’s, two of the science fiction digest magazines (that now have e-book editions each month if you haven’t seen them before), isn’t that there is such thing as an Analog story or an Asimov’s story that I as a long-time reader can tell you about. The difference is in the taste of their editors. Stanley A. Schmidt of Analog likes different kinds of stories than Sheila Williams of Asimov’s does. Occasionally their tastes overlap. Most often, they do not.
If there were such a thing as a perfect sf story, then both editors would always buy the same stories, and you couldn’t tell the magazines apart.
As readers, you all know this. As writers, you forget it.
And when you forget it, you make the weirdest decisions.
You give control of your product to the wrong people. You submit romance novels to science fiction markets (and wonder why the editor didn’t read your manuscript—was it the passive sentence on page 32?). You try to revise to please everyone in your peer-level writing group.
You self-publish your novel, make sure it’s edited and copyedited, add a fantastic cover, and then revise to address concerns posted by reviewers who gave your book one star. That’s complete and utter idiocy. Seriously.
And then Kris said this and I about fell of my chair laughing:
Some nutty brand new writer, with one or two novels to her name, posted a blog on Digital Book World espousing just that. She says writers should always address their critics’ concerns.
I read that and nearly snorted my tea all over my iPad. If I even tried to address all the nasty reviews I’ve gotten over the years, I’d never write anything new. If I tried to address all the somewhat valid criticisms I’ve gotten on my books, I’d still spend forever revising.
Only a writer with one or two publications to her credit would have time to even think such a thing is viable.
Her blog post has gone viral, and I’ve seen new writers everywhere wring their hands over the fact that they now have to pay attention to their one-star reviews and constantly revise.
I’m here to tell you this: If you want a career as a writer, ignore your critics.
Then I thought: “Wow! She’s right!” I don’t think she means to totally ignore criticism because it’s important to listen to people who want to help you. What she means is that you shouldn’t go back and edit and re-write with every piece of criticism you get. Instead, learn from it and move on to your next book. If you nitpick your book, editing, revising, editing, revising, pulling your hair out, editing, revising, then you will finally go aaaaaaargggghhh, and lose your mind. Just write your book, have an editor or two brush through it, publish and move on. Don’t look back. Move on to your next story. Writers who do this will grow and have careers. Writers who don’t … well, they will have one or two very polished books that are probably worse than when they were first written.
When you strive for perfection in your writing, you’re dooming yourself to perpetual failure. When you strive to be the best you can be, you will have a fulfilling life.
Writers who are always improving, always learning, move forward. They are secure in the knowledge that the book they wrote ten years ago is the best book it could have been given their level of craft and their understanding of the art of writing at the time they finished the book. They’re better now, so they write new things, explore new pathways.
They also realize that they have a career, not a novel. The people who tell you to endlessly revise, the people who tell you not to try something new until you’ve mastered the old, the people who believe that you should make every word perfect before you move onto a new project, those people don’t have writing careers. They might have things that seem like writing careers, like a few published stories, one or two novels.
But they don’t make their living from their craft (in other words, publishing their writing). They also approach storytelling from the point of view of perfection, not the point of view of enjoyment.
Once I read this, I felt immediately liberated. Just as readers read for enjoyment, writers should write for enjoyment. Not perfection. That is what the art of story making is all about. To do it because you enjoy it. Because you love it. Hounding it to death with revisions will just make it feel like … I don’t know … work, maybe?
In the end, that is what I’ve decided to do. To write for my enjoyment. And I hope that readers will read my stories for their enjoyment as well because that is what it’s all about. Our enjoyment.
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