Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is your writing good enough or better?

Deep within the "draft" section of my post list, I found this, which I wrote back at the end of January but didn't publish it to the world because I was afraid it wasn't very good. I'm still not sure that it is, but I decided to put it out there and see what everyone thinks.

Yesterday I finished the manuscript for Ecothrifty and emailed it to my publisher. On one hand, it was a great feeling. On the other hand, I knew it wasn't perfect, and deep down inside, I worried that it might be really terrible. In fact, in the email, I asked the editor to let me know as soon as possible if it didn't suck too badly.

While there are some people who get very upset about anyone editing their words, it seems that the real writers are far more worried that their writing is simply not good -- and all the editing in the world can't fix it. I think this might be the difference between a writer and someone who simply writes. If you think that you have perfectly expressed your ideas in a piece of writing and that no one should change a word, you don't really understand what it means to be a writer. A writer knows that even though you may have sweated and cried and lost sleep over your work, it still needs to be edited. There will be things that don't make sense to someone else. There will be things that should be re-arranged. There will be words that will seem out of place or out of character.

And that is the beauty of a great editor. She doesn't change things or make assumptions. She asks questions about what you intended to say. She lets you know when something doesn't work. She helps you to say what you really wanted to say. She is critical but fair and realistic. She doesn't let you get away with writing something that is simply "good enough." A good editor is worth her weight in gold.

But even the greatest editor can't fix something that really sucks. And a real writer knows that. And that is why we worry so much about whether our work is half decent. I know I'm in good company though. John Steinbeck complained in his diary about how he worried over The Grapes of Wrath, and J.K. Rowling used to call her sister crying when her latest Harry Potter book wasn't coming together the way she wanted. I can only imagine how unsympathetic her sister must have been after Rowling had become a huge success. But I also hope she was nice about it.

Even if the rest of the world loves our writing, we worry about it. Although that insecurity might drive everyone crazy -- writer and loved ones -- it is probably what made people like Steinbeck and Rowling such great writers. They refused to stop revising and rewriting until it was better than "good enough." They kept pushing themselves until it was really amazing.

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