A week or so ago, I “finished” the first draft of a book I have been wanting to write for several years. It was a massive undertaking, and as with several other books that I have written before, part of the reason why I hadn’t written it before is because I was somewhat intimidated by the size of the task.
But I put quotes around the word “finished” because never before have I felt as dissatisfied with the end result. The climax to the book was a crucial scene, and I ended up writing it, then writing it again, then being still unhappy with the end results.
As I temporarily set the book aside and have three beta readers take a look at it, I realize that I am not looking for them to tell me how much they like it. More importantly, I am looking for them to tell me what’s wrong with it and how to fix it.
For I definitely know that I am not finished with the book. There is a lot of promise in it, and I can see more than ever the message that is there, one that every reader can benefit from. The challenge is getting the silk purse out of the sow’s ear.
So what do you do when you’ve done your best, and it’s still not good enough? Here are some points to ponder:
- Anne LaMott writes about the “shitty draft,” the concept that every writer’s first draft is crap. The idea is to just get it out and on paper, and then fix it. If you acknowledge that it is going to be crap from the beginning, there’s less pressure on you to make it perfect the first time around. That’s what rewriting and editing is for.
- Iris Murdock writes that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.” What that means is that your fantastic idea will remain perfect only as long as it remains in your mind and not written out. That’s the big reason why so many stories I have written have intimidated me at the beginning. But you have to accept that in order for them to be shared with the world, they will need to be written. And if they are written, they will inevitably be less than perfect.
- There is always another draft to improve your work. Further, there will be, for those of us who are serious about writing, other books and writing projects. Some will shine and make us proud. Some will sputter and die. We must always do our best, with the intent of communicating what we consider important to our readers. It’s the reason why, when you put the article or book in the mail for consideration by an editor, you should immediately start working on your next project. To sit and worry about the fate of one is to grow old prematurely.
The final consolation I give my students is this: writing is never wasted. Whatever you write, whether you share it or not, whether it is published or not, the effort will make you into a better writer. And that, in the long run, is a good deal.