Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Good enough" is not good enough. Balancing technique, marketing, and my worst critic.

I let my husband read chapter one of The Corridor, the book I am currently editing the proof of and hope to have out by the end of March. Not to say this isn't the first time he read chapter one. He read chapter one a year ago. Since he likes math and has no desire to be a writer, I put in a lot of his suggestions where he thought I was getting a little too "irrational." I enjoy having him as a super cerebral, logical beta reader. On some things he's way off and my socioanalytical-emotional side balances his scientific-mathematical side. But more often than not he has a strange 6th sense that exorcizes even the best concealed B.S. And for some reason I thought he wouldn't find any in my proof. The dialogue was as follows, starting with him:

"It's not good enough."

"Why, give me examples."

"You don't mention this, this, and this."

"But I mention this, this and this here."

"It's too late, you already made me put the book down."

"But my writer's workshop loved this."

"Well, that's fine, but you can do better."

"This is the proof, I've edited this already!"

"Edit it again."


"It's not good enough."

"Is the whole thing trash?"

"No, you do some things very well, but not well enough. Good enough is not good enough."

First I was in denial. Ok. Whatever. So says the math genius who sees the world in 1's and 0's.

He kept on me so I tried being combative to which he told me I would get nowhere if I couldn't take criticism, especially from him.

I attempted playing to his rational side. This is genre. To succeed in the commodity market I have to pump out a book every six months. Maybe this is great for that pace. He told me that attitude would only get me mediocrity and he would not tolerate mediocrity.

So I tried victimization. I'm so tired, I'm in pain, I work too much for too little and it keeps me from writing, I've edited this so much, not everything can be perfect. Well, the math genius doesn't understand this language, it's not in 1's and 0's.

Then I got indignant. I've been writing and studying this business and craft for ten years, I'm just getting to a point where I think I'm doing decent work, maybe I should have some faith in my own knowledge, skills and intuition and know I'm in control. Exactly, he said, and that means knowing chapter one needs work.

I want to say that next I did NOT throw the book across the room and start crying. But. Well.

Nervous breakdown aside, I'm reworking chapter one. And editing the rest of the book. Again.

"You know you don't have to listen to me," he said when I recovered my sanity. "I'm just trying to help."

But the truth is, I know he is right. I was aiming for good enough. I achieved good enough. It's not good enough.

It's hard to keep sight of personal goals amid daunting news about shifting publishing formats, flooding of the market, a dwindling importance on reading, an acutely concentrated consumer base, and how to adequately flaw your characters and balance your plot.

There are a few things I believe. I believe you must publish at least a book a year, if not more, to build your brand and start selling. I believe genre will make more readers happy and build a more loyal readership for the author. I believe you will fail if you write to appease your audience rather than work on projects that really mean something to you. I believe there are no rules, and all my statements are wrong.
What I do have to work with are my goals. My first and foremost is to publish a book every six months. I think this goal is not only achievable, but achievable beyond "good enough."

In many ways, aiming for good enough got me to this point. I didn't agonize over super small things. I powered through. But now I need to dig deep and make it better. Take the advice I've been given. Keep going, because the journey is not over. But eventually there will come a point when I will say, stop. Close the book. It is finished. That is where I will rely on my intuition, knowledge and skills.

I would not have recommended such a swift publishing pace to myself a year ago. And if I find it doesn't work out, I will rearrange my goals. Maybe I'll need 8 months. Maybe I can overlap projects. But more than that, I need to stay focused and work harder. So simple, but not the most easy answer to hear.

I noticed a trend in many hobbies/professions/random things people do. A skill set is like a ladder. When you start learning about, say, writing, you begin to climb the ladder. After awhile you'll find you're climbing higher than some of the people around you. Then higher than most people around you. It is at this point you think, "Groovy. I'm so far up here and so many are below me." We stop climbing. We are good enough.

Now don't take that as an egotistical statement that I'm so high on the writing ladder. I am still staring up at the heels of many, many others. But I have made great strides in the quality of my own work. I was very happy with how The Corridor came out in the first proof. But ultimately, I know there are a few more rungs to be had. As an author, I know what good enough looks like.

And yes. I have health issues, I work crazy shifting hours, I feel that I am forcing time to write instead of making time. But that's what writing is. If you want to be good, you have to answer to yourself. If you want to be good, you have to make yourself stronger. And that means you push harder when the weight doesn't seem as heavy.

Like I said, I made it to good enough. Equating good enough to bad is unfair. I have the foundation. What I am going to build on that will only make it better. I got the hard part out of the way. I have a book. A complete book. But there are some places that need fixed. It's not the end of the world.
(Not to mention, I've been over some of this before with a different first proof.)

In many ways, good enough means you've gotten better. Maybe there were things you settled for in the past. Don't do it again. Make it better. Move forward. Know you can have marketing goals and retain the integrity of your writing, your process and your technique. Keeping the balance is a challenge, but one that needs to be met for any improvement to occur.

Usually I don't like posts like these, that claim there's a right way for doing things and any form of "settling" means it's not good enough. I feel terribly inept some days, crafting covers out of toothpicks and bubblegum, or writing on a scrap piece of paper on an hour drive home from a wedding reception with my cell phone light because it's the only way I'll make word count. Good enough is personal and unique to each author. But you know when you've found it.

So when you do, do something about it. Good enough doesn't have to be bad. Being stuck with it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment