The Business Rusch: Perfection

Last week, I mentioned the blog post  I had started, but decided not to publish in the midst of a busy workshop.  Here it is:

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.

If such a thing existed, then we would all read the same books and enjoy them equally. We would watch the same movies and need reviewers to tell us only which movie is perfect and which one isn’t. We would buy the same comics, again, going only for the comic that is perfect, and ignoring all the others.

Am I telling people to write crap? No. Because the choice isn’t between crap and perfection. Those are false choices.

I learned this lesson long ago. Dean Wesley Smith and I were visitors at a writing workshop taught by science fiction writer and editor Algis Budrys. One of the early volumes of Writers of the Future, which he had edited, had just appeared, and he asked the students to read one of the stories in the volume.

Then, without telling Dean and I what he was doing, he asked us to comment on the story.

Here’s what I remember of the piece: It was 2,000 words long. I think we spoke more than 2,000 words in our elegant, impressive critiques.

Algis looked at both of us sadly. Then he said, “Ignore them. The story is wonderful—or at least it is to this editor.”

He had expected us to praise the story, thinking we all had the same taste. Instead, Dean and I both had gone after the story in critique mode. When a reader critiques something, he goes after it by searching for what is wrong.

And he will find something. Something is always wrong. From an infelicitous turn of phrase to a plot point that could have been stronger, something about the story does not work.

As I’m teaching this concept to my workshop-experienced students, I always begin by asking them this, “What’s wrong with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

Well, we’re all raised to believe that Shakespeare is a god who never could do anything wrong. Had he done anything wrong, had his stories been less-than-perfect, we wouldn’t be reading them? Right?

Wrong.

If William Shakespeare—professional writer—had turned A Midsummer Night’s Dream in at a workshop I taught, I would have told him this:

“Bill, lose at least two of your endings. The main story of the play ends in Act IV, Scene 2—and then you go on for two more scenes. All of these endings would work. Pick one.”

Bill Shakespeare, dutiful workshopper that he is, would nod sadly, go back to his room, and delete one of the most favorite and quoted scenes in all of English literature. Puck turns to the audience and says,

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear.

I would have said to Bill, “Lovely. Thematically significant. Beautifully written. Lose it. You can do the same thing elsewhere.”

Yeah, right. My harsh words, spoken with authority, and Workshopper Bill’s insecurity would have stolen 400 years of enjoyment from audiences all over the world.

Anything can be critiqued. Criticizing something is easy. It makes the critiquer feel smart, and just a little bit superior to the writer.

But that kind of critique serves no real purpose, because that kind of critique is wrong from the moment the critiquer picks up the story or the manuscript or the 400-year-old play.

Readers read for enjoyment. They vote for what they like with their hard cold cash. Traditional publishers who recently ventured into the world of free online e-book promotions were stunned to realize that people who receive a book for free are more apt to write a vicious, nasty review of that book than people who paid money for the same book.

There are a few reasons for that. One is that people see no value in something they get for free. Dean’s discussing that bit on his blog right now.

But the one reason that’s relevant to this essay is this: If people have paid a little for a book, they have a vested interest in it. They take a small bit of the blame if the reading experience didn’t turn out exactly like they hoped. They should have looked at the cover more closely, perhaps, or read a snippet of the opening. But they didn’t. So they got a book they didn’t like. It was an accident. They’ll do better next time.

Readers are more realistic than writers. Readers understand that many, many, many books out there in the universe won’t be to their taste. All sorts of marketing tools have sprung up over the centuries to help readers find works that will be to their taste. From cover art to genre categories to back cover blurbs, all these things exist to help a reader choose the right book for them—a book they won’t regret purchasing. A book they will enjoy.

When a reader samples an e-book, she gets a small portion of the novel. If it’s to her taste, she will then decide whether or not to purchase. But if the book is really, really good, the reader will punch that “buy” button just to see what happens next regardless of price. (That’s how a lot of e-books priced over $10 sell to people who swear they’ll never pay more than $9.99 for an e-book. The reader samples, gets hooked, and buys, without checking price at all.)

What does that have to do with critique? Simple. Critiquers get the manuscript for free and they’re asked to criticize it. Of course, they will find something wrong with it. In that circumstance, we all will.

So I change my students’ mindset to a reader/editor mindset. How do I do it? By giving them only three valid responses to something they’ve read:

1. I liked what I read.

2. I quit on page [insert number here].

3. I liked what I read and I would have bought this.

Book and magazine editors don’t have time to read every manuscript that crosses their desks, and certainly don’t have time to critique them. Editors want to find something the readers will enjoy. Better yet, the editors want those people to return for a second bite from the apple. So they want the readers to enjoy the first book, and come back for the second by the same author. In fact, the editors want readers to return to the publishing house again and again, which is why imprints exist. (If you liked this book by Suzy Q. Writer, then try this book by Jane X. Author, published under the same imprint.)

In other words, editors also read for enjoyment. And if they’re not enjoying a book on page 2, they’ll jettison that book. The only time they use their editing superpowers on that book is if they bought it sight unseen from a professional writer and can’t reject it for cause. Then they try to help the writer “improve” that book, when really, if the editor were an average reader, he would have simply tossed the book aside and asked for another book (maybe even by somebody else).

Harsh? Not really. Not compared to a thirty-minute critique of a romance novel by a hard-science fiction writer forced to read said romance novel as part of a workshop. You ain’t heard harsh until then.

But I’m sure all you writers out there have heard just such a critique. And many of you have taken it to heart. I know dozens of writers who quit writing because they couldn’t stand the pain they received from their peer-level writing workshop. That’s a tragedy. How many stories have we lost? How many Bill Shakespeares have dumped the “unnecessary” second and third endings from their immensely enjoyable stories because some idiot told them to?

I don’t let students drone on and on about a story, especially  if they don’t like it. I will occasionally give the student something to improve the story, but before I do, I remind the student that 1) I am no longer editing, so my word has equal weight to every other reader’s word in the room; 2) I can be wrong; and 3) ignore everything I say if you disagree with me.

I go last, after I’ve heard the rest of the workshop. If anyone “buys” the manuscript at all and I didn’t like the manuscript or had found “flaws,” I remind the writer that someone already loved it and was willing to spend cold, hard cash on it.

Often, I tell writers this: Do not touch this story. Mail it. Everyone in the room liked it but me. Therefore what I have to say is irrelevant.

In other words, I never tell a student to make a story perfect. I often tell a student that the story is really good and needs to get out into the world where readers can find it.

I also teach writers bits and pieces of craft, things they might not be aware of. I don’t want them to create my perfect story. I want them to write stories that only they can tell.

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.

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.

When the book is finished, when the book is published for heaven’s sake, then it’s done. Irrevocably done. Mistakes and all.

And there will be mistakes. Lots of them.

One of my copy editors has been comparing my final manuscripts to the previously published editions of my novels as a final prep for the books’ reissues. She’s done that for two years now, and she’s found many things that copy editors missed. (Failing to capitalize Diet Coke in a novel published by Dell, for instance.) We’re fixing those tiny copyediting things because WMG Publishing is reissuing the books. Reissues always need proofs as they go into a new format because the format itself can introduce errors.

But she’s been having fits over one of the latest two Grayson novels, which will be reissued this summer. She complained in person to me about it. I frowned and said that I seemed to recall a bad copyedit on one of the Grayson books.

She wrote an e-mail to me later saying, “You really did have a horrible [copy] editor on this one. S/he/it (and yes, that really does say a lot about it) faithfully reproduced nearly every misspelled word, and introduced some errors…in the ms. Yeesh!”

In other words, the entire book was riddled with typos—and yes, we’re fixing them. But am I taking the opportunity to revise the book? No, I’m not. The book stands as it did when I originally wrote it. Readers loved those books. I’m not going to try to invalidate their reading experience by “improving” on it. I might take out the thing that they love.

A writer whose work I adore has revised my favorite novel of hers twice, publishing each revision as a new edition, neither of which I will not buy. I loved that first edition of that book. I don’t care how much better she’s gotten as a craftsperson. That book didn’t need a word changed, in my opinion.

At the workshop, one of the students pre-critiqued his own manuscript right after I called his name. We were well into the workshop by then; the writers knew the drill. We’d talk about the manuscript and then the author could speak. But he picked up the manuscript and volunteered to throw it away before we could comment on it.

Another student turned on him and growled, “I loved this story.” Then everyone else piled on. Yep, most of us had loved that story and all of us who had loved it were deeply offended that he thought it flawed.

When you learn a new bit of craft, when your skills have improved, when a reader points out a valid storytelling mistake in your published book that would take a complete revision of that book, what should you do?

Leave the book alone.

Incorporate what you’ve learned into the next book. You’ll learn something new on that book that you can then incorporate into the next book. Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving. But for god’s sake, don’t look backwards. Those books are done.

How do you know when a manuscript is done? That’s trickier. I think you should trust the process, fix the nits, and move to the next book. Writing is a subconscious art, not a conscious one. You heard your first story before you could speak, so your subconscious knows a lot more about writing than your conscious brain ever will.

Trust that.

Many writers don’t believe what I just wrote, and that’s fine. You need to define it for yourself. Set a limit on revisions, set a limit on drafts, set a time limit. (My book must be done in August, no matter what.) Then release your book on the unsuspecting public.

The book will never be perfect. Take the advice that those of us who’ve worked in broadcasting learned long ago. I think it was best expressed by Tina Fey in Bossy Pants: The show doesn’t go on when it’s finished; it goes on because it’s 11:30.

Exactly. At some point, you must simply let go of that book or story or play and move to the next.

If our workshopping friend Bill Shakespeare strove for perfection, we would never have heard of him. We wouldn’t have gotten all of that marvelous writing, all of those wonderful—flawed—plays. (You don’t think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only one riddled with possible workshop-identifiable errors, do you? Think of Romeo and Juliet. Why didn’t those crazy lovesick kids just move to another town????)

With so many publishing options, it’s harder now for a writer to believe in her work. Does she go to traditional publishing and ask them to validate her book? Does she self-publish and hope for the best?

I understand that. I also think that writers need to understand that they’re not writing for one editor or agent or for a small subset of people like a critique group. Writers write for readers.

And it’s up to the writer as to how to find those readers. As Sarah Hoyt said in last week’s comments, ask yourself, “How will this book best reach its audience?” The key words here are “book,” “reach,” and “audience.”

Not “How do I impress Editor A?” or “How do I get an agent?” But how does this book best reach its audience? Sometimes that answer is through traditional publishing. Sometimes that answer is to become an indie writer.

The question should never ever be, “How do I write the perfect novel?” because the perfect novel or short story or play or article or essay does not exist.

A better question is, “How do I make the book the best it can be?” That you have to answer for yourself. Me, I make sure I have outside help—a dedicated first reader or two or three before my book goes to my editor in traditional publishing or to the editor I hire when I self-publish. A copy editor in both cases to make sure that my dyslexia doesn’t make my books impossible to read. A “stet” stamp so that I can disagree with said copy editor when I wanted a particular misspelling or poorly constructed sentence to stand for story reasons. (Allyson Longueira has a great post on this very topic.)

The best possible cover. The best possible interior design.

Sometimes I get a say in those last two things. Sometimes I don’t.

I also don’t always get a say in how the books get distributed either. Remember, my goal is to find my audience, and when my traditional publishers choose not to pursue every distribution option open to them (because it’s too much work or there’s “too little return”), I get angry.

My readership varies from book to book, series to series, genre to genre. I never know who will like something I wrote. I just have to give that person the opportunity to find what I did.

Sometimes readers like my work. Sometimes they don’t. Once the book is released into the wilds of publishing, however, it’s done. Finished. I will not revise a published book.

Is my craft better than it was twenty years ago when I published my first novel? Oh, hell, yes. But my craft is so much better that I could never have written that novel now. Because there’s something in the middle of it that no established writer, steeped in craft, would ever attempt. At the time I wrote the book, I didn’t know you couldn’t do that thing, so I did it.

Had I workshopped that novel, more experienced writers would have told me to remove that thing. Yet that thing is what readers remark on the most about that novel.

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 grow.

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.

If a flawed novel entertains, it has done its job.

How do you know if a novel entertains? Talk to its fans. Look at its sales figures. See how many people recommend it to their friends.

How do you learn to be the best writer you can be? Step one: Read other people’s work for enjoyment. Stop critiquing manuscripts. Stop thinking everything can be perfect.

Then write a lot. Practice, practice, practice. Find your audience—and respect them.

After all, they’re forking out their hard-earned cash to pay for one of your stories. If they buy more of your work, then you’re doing something right.

Perfection in publishing—like perfection in life—does not exist.

So why do people cry in my craft workshops? Essentially because I tell them they don’t have to be perfect. They just need to have fun. They need to share that fun with their readers. Writers understand that. We all do. We like to share our work—the best work we can do—with other people. Not perfect work. The best. Even if it has two additional unnecessary endings.

Like this.

See why I didn’t publish this last week when I had no time? I knew this one was going to cause a firestorm of comments, and I knew a bunch of you would ask for clarification. By the way, if you can’t be polite in the comments, you’re not going to get your comment published.

Someone once suggested that I shut off the comments to save time, but I value them. I value the e-mails and the links you send as well. I also value the donations, which keep me going on the nonfiction portion of my career. This nonfiction blog will continue as long as the readers support it financially. When that stops, I stop, because I have a lot of fiction stories to tell, and this blog takes some of that fiction time.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed in the past to keep this blog going. I appreciate it.

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“The Business Rusch: “Perfection,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

 

 

253 responses to “The Business Rusch: Perfection”

  1. Audra says:

    This is the best post I have ever read. It is nice to see someone building writers up instead of tearing them down.

  2. Kenneth Guthrie says:

    You know, I never learned this sort of thing. I started publishing a year ago and have done well. The only source of information that I had was Dean (not even you, Kris) when I started out. Nowadays, I don’t always agree with Dean all of the time because I’ve learned my own lessons and own way and he has his too – sometimes we just see things differently. BUT back then he taught me his understanding of Heinlein’s rules and “ALWAYS, ALWAYS WRITE THE NEXT BOOK.” SO when I read this post i thought, “Pfft just write the next book…” then I laughed my ass off because I realized that your husband has formed a central part of my publishing and writing philosophy, which is that I couldn’t care less about perfection and rewriting. Those things are for fools and newbies (ahem, no offence intended, folks). All I know is the ‘write the next book way’. I’ve written 521 ebooks equaling around 3.5 million words or less (over-estimation). Perfection is a joke. Publish and be done.

    *****

    One of my favorite pieces of narration was done by Sarah Conor in terminator 2. She narrates: “Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The Terminator would never stop, never leave him, never hurt him, never shout at him or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there, and it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this machine was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.” The way she delivers this really hit home how someone should never give up on what they want or care about. The publishing version would be:

    Watching the author with the book, it was suddenly so clear. The author would never stop, never leave it, never hurt it, never shout at it or get drunk and hit it, or say it was too busy to spend time with the book. It would always be there, and it would die to protect it. Of all the would-be authors who came and went over the years, this author was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice BECAUSE in the end it would know when to let be a book AND THAT made it the best author of them all.

    Food for thought I guess and perhaps a good personification of the determination that one should take on with the ‘write a next book’ way of thinking.

  3. Marcia says:

    This is the queen of awesome posts. I’m going to listen more to my intuition.

    Since you’ve gotten nearly 200 comments, I haven’t read them all, but I wonder: as an unpublished writer, I don’t have any recourse when an agent or editor tells me my MS needs various plot changes. My beta readers may think the story is mostly great the way it is, but it’s the agent I want to represent me.

    Self-publishing removes that problem but has several others. You have to do all your own work. You can get some help, but you have to be sure you’re getting advice that will help and not hurt. Publishing has gotten way more complicated than it used to be!

    • In my opinion never ever ever rewrite because an agent tells you to. The agent should love your work as is. The agent, once you hire them, works for you. Imagine if an employee–or you, for that matter–tells a boss they’ll only work for that person if that person changes x,y, & z. Not someone you want to hire, ever. Read my husband Dean Wesley Smith’s Killing the Sacred Cows of publishing on his blog (deanwesleysmith.com) for more info. I’ve done a lot of posts on this too. Just look back through the Business Rusch titles, and the Freelancer’s Guide on employees. Good luck with it all and I’m glad you’re trusting your intuition!

    • I 100% agree with Kris. I’ve had an agent, she was nice, it didn’t work out. She made suggestions. I ignored most of them. The novels she represented are earning money for me self published now. I added an important subplot to one, but it was not something she suggested. Her suggestions were counter to my intuition. I wouldn’t have an agent again, based on my experiences and everythig Kris and Dean say on the subject (which is a lot and made of gold).

      Agents -may- know what sells, but if they knew what made a good story, they would be in-demand editors or writers or publishers.

  4. Sherry Weddle says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear!
    As a yet unpubbed writer, life keeps intervening, and my story is not ready yet, I am so happy my crit partner sent me this blog. I hope this will free me up to enjoy my story again.
    This also affirms my attitude while judging writing contests. There are some entries that just zing along, I know they are not perfect but I loved the story just as it is and I tell the author that! No critiques, no suggestions, just that I loved it. Sometimes I feel that I’m not doing my job as a judge if I don’t give the author something to do to her story.
    You’ve given me the courage to feel justified when I simply tell the author, Well Done!
    wish there were more entries I can say this about 😀

  5. T.K. Marnell says:

    I don’t know why you say this post would produce a firestorm; it sounds perfectly reasonable to me. You should take a piece of your advice here and stop worrying about the potential critics :p

    When I self-published my first novel, I was dumbfounded when the reviews started to roll in telling me to change it. The book was published. Done. But it seems like the reviewers thought it was a work in progress. They said things like, “This could be great with some editing to make the heroine likeable.” I thought that was bizarre. It’s one thing to say you didn’t like it, but another to order the author to rewrite the plot and characters after it’s already in print. But it all became clear when I checked out their Goodreads profiles: they were writers too. They hadn’t taken off their critique partner hats.

    This post has made me stop to think about how I think when I beta read. It also made me better understand my SO when he reads my stories and marks them up saying, “I hate this character, I hate this description, I hate this scene,” and then when I say I’ll change it he insists, “No! It’s fine the way it is!”

  6. Thank you for a wonderful post. I will unabashedly admit that I love my books–especially my first one. I love the character and the plot and how I wrote it. 🙂 However, I know it’s far from perfect. Some people don’t like what they perceive as a political overtone, some don’t like the violence and some don’t connect with the character. That’s okay because they are free to find books that meet their tastes. Meanwhile, I have plenty of readers who love the same things about my books that I do. I guess I could understand how that one author thinks we should give our readers what they want, but I think it would be a herculean task. How can you please every single reader? It’s impossible. Instead, I’ll write books that I love, and hopefully readers who have similar taste to me will find them and love them too.

    I mean, if I don’t love what I’m writing, why in the world should I expect someone else to love reading it?

  7. ML Guida says:

    Kristine, This blog boosted me up when I needed it most. Sometimes people think they are helping when they give critiques, but they need to tell people their strengthens and not focus on their weaknesses. I love your rules. I bet your workshops are uplifting and give writers a chance to kill those harpies and trust in their writing ability.

  8. Barbara Rae Robinson says:

    Thank you! I needed to hear that. I will let this book go when I finish this revision. I’ve learned a lot. I have more to learn. I will practice my new skills on book two of my trilogy.

    Barb

  9. J S says:

    How to be fearless in the business of writing!

    Real readers want the story and the entertainment. The editing is just to make the words disappear as much as possible from the images and dialog. Like making sure no pot holes line the otherwise smooth asphalt rolling under the wheels. The other extreme of too much rewriting and misguided editing overwork the prose into fancy literary phrases that often spoil the pleasant scenery with jarring billboards.

    The art comes in with knowing what to write, what to edit, and when to publish.

    .

    • Sandra says:

      Kristine,

      A friend from one of my writing groups posted the link to this article. I’m glad she did. You made several very good points in an extremely clear manner. Thank you. These are things it has taken me a long time to learn. The part about waiting for a traditional publisher to validate you is something a writer friend said to me last year. This year we are both getting ready to launch our first books ourselves. Thanks again.

  10. Kathryn Jane says:

    THANK YOU!

    (And thanks to Susan Lyons for sending me to this blog.)

  11. Funny story: I wrote a short that won a college fiction contest way back in 2003. Validation, right? First place is hard to beat. I later published that same story, without revision, in a literary journal at a subsequent college in 2005. More validation. Yea!

    Except that I read that story now, and I cringe. It could not be more obvious that it was the best it could be when I wrote it, but I still couldn’t bring myself to self-pub it as it was.

    So I’m compromising. I’m not going to edit that story at all. I am going to completely redraft the idea, and write an entirely new story that will be the best story that it can be right now. Then I’m going to publish both stories together, as a sort of literary “before-and-after.”

    And who knows: perhaps ten years from now, this new story will make me cringe, and I can revisit the idea again, write a third story, and publish a three-pack “evolution-of-an-idea.”

    • I love this idea, Anthony. Evolution of an idea indeed. I’m publishing a book like that later this summer, showing how the same idea can be different stories. 🙂

      • Mercy Loomis says:

        That’s like my favorite author! Robin McKinley has done Beauty and the Beast a couple different times (and I love Chalice but it’s a B&tB story too, on one level). It’s fun to see how the story changes over the years she’s been telling it.

      • Just an update: my First Reader told me to send this one out. So if it gets accepted, the two-pack will get put on hold until rights revert. If not, then the two-pack goes up the day after the final rejection letter.

  12. I’m just finishing the first draft of my third novel (A la Camp National Novel Writing Month) and I felt like my writing was complete crap. A friend, fellow NaNo author, and personal critique partner recommended I read this blog in the last few hours of my rush to 50,000 words.

    Suddenly I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s nice to have someone REMIND ME that I DON’T need to have a “perfect” novel, nor do I need to write for every reader out there.

    Thanks. I suddenly have the motivation to edit the novels I have when I seriously considered throwing them out. I’d like to see where I go with them before I decide if they’re worth keeping now!

    • Great, Rachel. My only caution is this: make sure you don’t get too critical in your reading. Pretend you’re a new reader and see if you get lost in your story. I bet you will. You did when you wrote the pieces. If that happens, put them out into the world. Good luck–and congrats on finishing your book so quickly.

      • Laura says:

        I’m glad I read that response. My NaNo novel from a few years ago was written “into the dark” (normally I’m an outliner) and so afterwards I felt like I had to do major surgery on it to “fix” it. After all, how could it be good? I still haven’t done anything to it, because every time I read through it, I just read it! I can’t think of anything to change. Granted, maybe it’s just too much of a mess for my brain to figure it out. 🙂

  13. Raven says:

    I have a couple of things. First, in response to Meryl’s comment, I had a similar experience. I wrote a YA humor piece that I first read aloud to my parents. They laughed. Since laughing isn’t something you can force, it was one of the few times I could use my parents as legitimate first readers (they normally love everything I write, so it’s hard to find out what’s actually good). Then, I read it to my seventh grade class (student teaching), and many of them were shocked that I wrote it. One even said, “Wow, I thought that was some famous author or something.”

    Naturally, I sent it off to be published.

    Another thing I was going to add was that I’ve been using this advice in my writing partnership — the two of us meet regularly. I’ve made it a point to really focus on what’s working with the piece and if I do any actual critique, I make sure to explain how it actually affected me as a reader (like when I run into a part where I stop paying attention), rather than tearing it apart the way we’re taught to do in writers’ workshops. She says she wants harsh critique, but that’s because she’s afraid of looking like a fool in public.

    The big issue here is that I think a lot of people, and a lot of writers, don’t trust that their work is good. And so, they think that critiques that are all positive are false. They think they only way they can tell if they’re getting an honest review is if it points out mistakes, because, well, nothing is perfect (never mind that it’s not supposed to be perfect). So, if the critiquer doesn’t find mistakes, they’re obviously being dishonest. This insecurity about honesty then translates to critiquers wanting to prove their honesty by finding mistakes.

    I’ve been trying to fix that by really focusing on strengths in the writing I read, and only pointing out mistakes/problems that really affect me — and saying how they affected me — as a reader. Oh, and grammar. If I notice it (which, despite being a grammar nut, is actually quite rare).

    • Good points all, Raven. What I find amazing is that often in workshops I have to tell people to write down the good things said about their work. They never do. They only write down the bad things “to fix.” How can you know what to avoid touching if you ignore the good? We don’t value honest–good–appraisal in this culture. It’s sad, imho. We seem to value the negative and not the positive.

  14. Cyn Bagley says:

    Thanks – I needed that again. I have written four novels and released them on the unsuspecting public (on Amazon) pretty soon afterwards. I do have a couple of beta readers. One of them, kept asking me when the next book in my small series was going to get done, which made me get it done.

    Cyn

    • I love readers like that. Value that one, Cyn. That reader will help you more than you know.

      • Amen to that! There’s a reader who connected with me on Facebook to personally tell me how much she loved my first book (and had told her friends about it) and to stay connected so she’d know when the next one was coming out. Knowing there’s a reader out there waiting – someone who doesn’t know me from Adam but wants to read more of my work – really helps to keep me going when I’m staring at the screen wondering what the hell I’m doing and if I shouldn’t just delete the current WIP and go off and work in the garden or something. (Of course, sometimes I do go off and work in the garden, just to clear my head, and somewhere during a weed-pulling session figure out where that scene needed to go and can then go back to it with new energy, but that’s just me shoving myself out of my own way!)

  15. Thank you!

    My second novel is with my first reader now, and I’m feeling a bit nervous. And beginning to run scenarios in my head of how she might react to my story. She loved my first novel, and also gave some really useful feedback that inspired me. But I’ve found myself worrying that she won’t like my second effort or that she’ll find problems I won’t know how to fix. I even imagined the scenario in which I decided not to publish it! Yikes!

    Your post has strengthened my confidence. And I *will* publish. Even if it’s not perfect!

    Thank you!

  16. I was thinking about the Shakespeare example, and also the RunPee vs. MIB3 example in the comments, and I realize you just hit on the exact reason why I hate the standard advice “Kill your darlings.”

    • ABeth says:

      YESSSSSSSSS. That particular phrase has annoyed me, and I am by now crotchety enough that I’m not putting up with it anymore. I’ll kill my darlings when I feel like it, and otherwise I’ll just run them through heck.

  17. This blog brings back a million memories of master class and has my mind going in so many directions! Part of me wants to yell yes! Because I get it now (even if I didn’t believe you back then). Part of me wants to say, well, what about thus and such, even though I know exactly what you would say. And part of me wants to tell you you’re wrong. But in the end, all those reactions tell me that while I totally understand this intellectually and believe it whole-heartedly — for everyone else — there is some part of me that doesn’t quite believe it applies to me. And I didn’t know that. Thanks for this post!

  18. Russ says:

    Having been the victim of harsh critiques myself I know how wounding they can be. But I believed the story still had merit. What I discovered from that experience was the audience who looked at the work was wrong for that story. When I found the right audience they fell in love with the story.

    While this seems obvious, given some people love SF and some don’t (my late mom and dad are prime examples), when you’re the creator of the work you have a personal/emotional connection to the story that others may not share. Over time a learn to protect themselves when the slings and arrows come at them. I know this is easy to say and very hard to do, but protecting yourself should be number one. Don’t read reviews if you can’t handle them is the best advice for many people.

    Having attended many of your workshops, Kris, and received your and Dean critiques I can honestly say they are the best in the business by far. And most importantly when the story didn’t work for whatever reason. When I lead workshops I try to emulate your and Dean’s style and try to be helpful to the writer. The last thing I would want to do is destroy a potential career to service my ego (sadly which is some of what I’ve seen).

    Great article, thanks.

  19. Thomas K. Carpenter says:

    Personally, I’d be sad if I didn’t have any one or two star reviews. Besides the sometimes hilarity of their opinions (which are all valid!), getting those levels of reviews means that my book is being pushed outside it’s natural audience. Sure, it’s going to result in people who won’t like my book, but the book will also find new fans in those that it’s intended for. I look at one and two star reviews as people who bought my book after it was suggested to them by friends or family.

    Great article! Thanks again, Kris!

    –Tom

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Excellent point, Tom. Exactly.

    • A bad review is the result of a good book being read by the wrong reader.

      Assuming the book is competently written, of course, and that the reviewer is sincere and not trashing randomly.

      My bad reviews are the results of me commissioning good cover art, writing an enticing blurb, having a good first chapter, and good reviews from other readers. This is a compliment not a problem. I’ve hooked a wide audience. Invariably, that will attract beyond the perfect targets.

  20. Chrissy Wissler says:

    This idea of perfectionism really hit home for me at the workshop. You had us all hopping with writing short stories, technique assignments, lectures, reading… there was simply no time to be perfect. We had a set amount of time to eat, sleep, and do the work. That’s it. No time to fret. No time to worry over the perfect sentences or nailing the assignment. For me in particular, this worked miracles. With the three life rolls I’m going through right now, if I stressed about being perfect, if I worried about getting the assignments right… that would have invited all those life rolls into my writer’s office. I have no doubt it would have frozen my writing completely. I had the choice to worry and to fret, to let my critical voice in, or chuck everything and say ‘the hell with it – this is the assignment I’m turning in whether or not it’s right.’ That’s what I did and I’m still in shock about how ‘easy’ the assignments felt, how relaxed I was, and you know what? I enjoyed myself.

    After reading your post I realized more than ever I wasn’t just chucking my critical voice, it was also this need to strive for perfection (which, of course, is tied to the critical voice). Now, the key will be carrying this feeling into my writing AFTER the life rolls have passed. I know what it feels like to beat my critical voice into submission and let my creative voice have all the fun it wants, now I just have to remember for the future…

    Screw trying to be perfect. I’d rather just have fun. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll get things wrong, and I’ll learn and move onto the next story. But isn’t all that the point of practicing? You’re supposed to make mistakes and you’re supposed to learn, only to make NEW mistakes the next time around. As I said, it’s kinda fun. =)

    Thanks, Kris, for a fantastic workshop and a fantastic blog post.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Great, Chrissy. You figured out my evil plan. 🙂 And what she described, folks, is why we can’t do webinars on most of our classes. It just won’t work. Dean and I don’t lecture–we immerse.

      I hope you find some time to relax the next two months….

  21. I’ve just had my mystery critiqued by a good editor who offered valuable suggestions. Reading your blog has balanced my brain and reset my confidence level. Thank you! You rock.

  22. Thank you from the bottom of my soul. I needed to hear this. I’ve just made a donation–I wish it could have been more. Lovely article. I could have used it a couple years ago!

    My first experience with a freelance editor I hired left me questioning everything I did. I’m only now recovering and believing in my abilities again. Your wisdom is appreciated. God bless.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Thank you for the donation, Christie. Remember: you’re the authority on your work, not some editor, not some publisher. You. And if you remember that, you’ll be fine and you can occasionally hire help–and then ignore it if you see fit. 🙂

  23. John Barnes says:

    One of the more useful games we used to play over beer, in the bar after the seminar, in theatre grad school, was “What is the best play you hate?” I.e. what undeniably great work do you find loathesome?

    Often it’s not even nitpicking. Often there are things so wrong it’s hard to conceive how the work survived them. TOM JONES has a pat ending, Dickens can’t imagine a happier world than rich people doing nothing, Conrad is a racist in despair, and Heinlein was monumentally intellectually lazy about anything he didn’t care about, which was an immense array of things. And Fielding, Dickens, Conrad, and Heinlein will be, deservedly, read when their critics are dust.

    The trick, I think, is to look not for what is “wrong and standing in the way” but for what is “right and can save your ass.” If you have enough of the latter, nothing in the former can sink you; but if a cart without wheels is also nailed to the ground, tied to an anchor, and overloaded with bricks, you can spend a week unloading bricks and pulling nails, and then have an inspired moment of untying the anchor, and it still isn’t going anywhere.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      I love that game, John. It’s truly a perfect way to show someone that they’ve become too critical. Because if you then ask them why that play/work/story survived so long, they boggle and can’t quite answer it. That’s a much tougher question to figure out, particularly if you hate the work in question. Sometimes you just have to shrug and say, “I have no idea. It’s not to my taste.”

    • John, I’m enraptured by your “cart without wheels” metaphor. Utterly true. Thanks!
      Kris, this whole post and its comments have been excellent. What I need to take away from it (but it’s hard to do!) is that I have to publicize the book I recently published on Kindle Direct Publishing. I lost many months trying to land an agent who loved it, loved it . . . Oops, no — not so much. Her critique at the end of all those months was that she didn’t like the multiple viewpoints. I wrote a polite, sincere thank you note but said multiple POV was essential to the story. I’m still not over the sting of rejection and therefore not one hundred percent a champion of my book.
      Thanks for your blog.

      • Lynnette, that agent did love your book and she tried with it. Then she couldn’t do anything, so she made something up, maybe something an editor told her once over lunch that multiple viewpoints don’t work. So many agents/editors try to find something “helpful” to say when they reject for a business reason they don’t want to explain to the author. I know this because I used to do it too when I was editing before I realized I didn’t need a reason other than “this isn’t right for my magazine” which is also true. So ignore that comment and believe in your book again. Good luck with it!

  24. I’ve bookmarked this post in my “important” posts/sites about writing (according to me).

    What a fantastic and timely post – I’ve been struggling with my second novel, wondering if it’s good enough, comparing it to my first, and it’s just a waste of time. What I used to say to myself is: I’m learning, I’m growing a writer. Lately, impatience is getting the better of me and I want to not only be perfect, I want to be perfect NOW.

    Reading your post, understanding that perfection is impossible, is so incredibly freeing and career-making for me and many others caught in the same trap. Thank you, Kris. You are amazing.

  25. RD Meyer says:

    Sometimes, you just have to know when to stop making “corrections” and let the work stand for itself.

  26. JJBrannon says:

    When I began attending SF cons in the late 80s I would join the Writers Workshops especially at Philcon. After sessions, it was not unusual for nascent writers and pros to come to me to thank me for my participation and/or discussing my story structure approach, eluki bes shahar being one memorable example. I hadn’t read her Butterfly and Hellflower series at the time and when I did, I couldn’t see where she needed my advice.

    That was gratifying. What was more gratifying and more frustrating were the number of occasions when I championed some story that was being pummeled by the rest of the participants and the next year, I’d see the same writer and he or she would say, “I took your advice and I sold the story.” Frustrating because in 35 years I’ve never sold a single thing.

    The first story of my own I workshopped received this initial comment from Darrell Schweitzer: “This is salable as is.” Then several w’shoppers critqued it to pieces.

    What was my workshop philosophy that seemed to set me apart and appeared to work for the submitting writers?

    My aim was not to find where a story “failed”. My goal was always to discern what was the story that particular writer wanted to tell and how to help him or her to express it **in one’s own manner** to the people who most likely would draw the most enjoyment from it.

    That didn’t mean I would soft-pitch. If the author’s market was hard SF, then I’d emphasize the faults in the physics but always try to offer a solution in the vein in which he or she was mining.

    I ponder the utility of workshops. I suppose it’s a matter of fit among the participants. But, you’ve nailed this, KKR — the best is oft the enemy of the good.

    JJB

  27. Anjolize Swart says:

    THANK YOU!! I needed this!!

    I have tossed away how many drafts over the years because of what people said and even worse WHAT I TOLD MYSELF. Now I am going to sit down this weekend, and just write for me.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Oh, yeah. We all internalize this stuff, and then inflict it on ourselves. We just need to have fun and write for ourselves. Glad you’ll do that this weekend. 🙂

  28. Kartik says:

    Brilliant article. You really don’t know why you like what you like.
    Three sorts of books reviews, perfect

  29. Wow.

    What timing. I really needed this. Thank you so much for this post.

  30. Hi Kris, thanks so much for this essay on perfection. I’ve been guilty of going over and over a story, trying to get it perfect, when I should have just acknowledged it was as good as I could get it and moved on to the next one.

    Just a moment ago I came across this video of Milton Glaser talking about creativity and it reminded me of what you said about trying new things.

    Anyhow, I thought I’d post the link here in case you, or anyone else, was interested.

    http://oncreativity.tv/site/videos/milton-glaser/5BGlNBnlpPA?utm_source=swissmiss&utm_campaign=350751de75-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email

    Thanks again for this wonderful article!

    • Thanks so much, Karen, for sharing this link! What a great video – a message we all need to hear: trying new difficult things is the only way to greatness. (Of course, we stumble and fall we try to do this, but it is the trying that matters.)

  31. Adrianne Lee says:

    Thank you for this blog post. Wow. It hit me right at a time I needed to hear it. I have the rights back to two older books. I started revising one of them because, yes, I am such a better writer. But all I’ve managed is to make a mess of it because revising the opening changes the whole story. The second one I’d already decided to let stand because it works as long as I preface it with the year the story took place, before cell phones, DNA, etc.

    I will take your words to heart in all of my future writing endeavors. Adrianne

  32. Ed Greaves says:

    Oh, thank heaven someone with serious credentials and a good audience posted this. I’m not sure if I saw the exact blog post you refer to or not, but I saw one this week that referred to the idea of revising your book based upon the Amazon reviews. It made me cringe and threw up every bad warning sign. All I could think in my head was, what I hope they are talking about is doing something I’ve seen Dean suggest, which is: write a whole new story about the same basic idea, just do it better the next time around. Not: revise the book you’ve already been selling on Amazon. I sure hope no one is doing that. I mean, it’s one thing to be Stephen King, and decide you want to re-release The Stand with all the “cut scenes” like the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings movies or something. But to actually revise a book based upon consumer feedback…my mind boggles. Thank you, thank you. I hope the right eyes find this post.

  33. John Brown says:

    First, what plugin are you using to manage your comments? This is a wordpress themed site, correct?

    Second, and more important–

    GOLD. This post is gold. I love your posts Kris. But this one, this one is one of the very best. The most helpful.

    I remember critiquing my neighbor’s hilarious novel, which he then trashed. He never wrote again. And I still didn’t understand. I stuck knives into I don’t know how many wonderful stories because I went in looking for problems instead of an experience.

    I posted these on my site a few years ago. I think they totally apply.

    “An author needs a lot more than one person to succumb to his literarily seductive charms, but, like Saul, he must realize that he doesn’t have to–and indeed cannot–capture the hearts of every possible reader out there. No matter who the writer, his ideal intended audience is only a small fraction of all the living readers. Name the most widely read authors you can think of–from Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens to Robert Waller, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling–and the immense majority of book-buyers out there actively decline to read them” (Thomas McCormack, former CEO and editorial director of St. Martin’s Press, The Fiction Editor, The Novel, and the Novelist, p8)

    The thing Character wants, the danger that threatens fulfillment of this desire, and the decision he makes, determine what specific readers will enjoy the story. One likes sex and violence, another tenderness and love, another the competitive striving for success, another intellectual stimulation. Relatively few college professors are Tarzan fans–and even fewer sharecroppers succumb to Finnegans Wake. The trick, for the writer, is merely to pinpoint audience taste…then to refrain from attempting to inflect his copy on the wrong people.” (Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer, p137)

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Thanks for the quotes, John. I also point out the idea that McCormack has in his quote: for every fan a bestselling writer has, there are two other people (at least) who “hate” that writer’s work–often without trying it.

  34. Patrick Reynolds says:

    Your blog on perfectionism, and one of the comments about when is a story ready to go out had something jump at me…

    …the key word is ‘out’.

    It’s ready to go out when you’re ready to put it out of your head; let it go. You’ve already moved on.

    The trick, then, is a way of thinking to get to putting something out, away from you. Reporters do it, most other folk don’t if they have anything at all to write. They linger. Fret. Worry over the blank page. Talk shit. Listen to others’ fretting. Walk. The problem, I guess, is a focus on one project with no deadline, and not a series of projects that need to be gotten to – are burning to be gotten to, if they story seeds tickle the imagination. New life, each time. Why stay with the stale?

    – Goes out [to world, whomever – who cares, by then!] when it is out of the head [gone already – yippee!].

  35. Cora says:

    Another great post, Kris. And considering that I just got embroiled into yet another “fast writers can’t possibly be good” discussion, this is a message that a lot of writers need to hear.

    Ever since I started indie publishing, I have been slowly going through my inventory of finished and nearly finished fiction to see if there’s anything worth salvaging. In the course of this, I came across a lot of dross, but I also found several finished short stories that are good enough to be published with a few minor tweaks. Yet for some reason, I never submitted any of those stories, I just left them to languish on my harddrive upon finishing them. And when I tried to remember why I trunked those stories without ever giving them a chance, the answer is often something along the lines of “My creative writing workshop at university hated it or just plain didn’t understand it”. So I let a poet or a literary short fiction writer dictate what to do with my fantasy or SF stories.

    My favourite stupid critique along those lines was the one that claimed that a crime short wasn’t realistic, because the mafia boss in the story did not speak like real mafiosi. How did the critiquer, a nice suburban lady, know that the character did not sound like a real mafioso? Because real mafiosi sound just like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Now there actually was a nugget of useful information hidden in her critique, namely that the dialogue in that particular story was a bit stiff in places. But nonetheless, I let a stupid critique stop me from submitting a story that might have found a home. I’ll indie publish it next month.

  36. Rob Cornell says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic today, wondering where the whole “revise it and beat it to a pulp” notion started. The thing is, most teachers of the craft (in books, classrooms, or conferences) seem to harp on this need to strive for perfection. I have read or heard hundreds of times the advice, “Never send anything out until you’ve revised it to perfection.” I have a BA in Fiction Writing and I recall a specific time getting great feedback on a story from the class and instructor. Later, in conference with the instructor, we discussed the piece, then he said, “Now it’s time to revise it.”

    I looked at him like…huh?

    “Oh, you could send it out like it is, sure. But you could make it great with rewrites.”

    My problem? I didn’t know what to revise, and he really couldn’t tell me outside of a couple minor, just shy of line-editing kinds of things. But if I rewrote it, I could make it great.

    Guess where that story is. Moldering on my hard drive. 🙂

    It’s no wonder so many new writers (and some old ones) suffer this perfection neuroses. We’re all drooling for the bell to ring that signals us to write another draft.

    We need more teachers of the craft like you, Kris (and Dean, too). Less indoctrination and more constructive support.

  37. Thom says:

    GREAT post Kris!

    In the TV business, we launched a script because we ran out of time–it had to go! No more time to re-write. There were some scripts that as writers we liked, and some we didn’t really like–but they had to get made, so that was that.

    But I know you won’t be surprised by this: however we felt, some viewers liked it. Liked it enough to come back for more. And often, the scripts that we as a room liked the least were the viewer’s favorites.

    A lesson in that.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Thanks, Thom. I’ve made it a point to never answer a standard interview question: which book of yours do you like the most and which do you like the least. It’s not for me to judge. It’s up to my readers. I never know what the readers will like. I only know what I hope they’ll like.

      It’s a constant surprise.

  38. I’m really surprised that neither you nor any of your very smart commenters has yet quoted my favorite Voltaire quote: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” With this subject, I expected it sooner than 94+ comments.

    I use that quote when I teach software design, which seems to me (as a programmer) to have some real similarities to writing. In the software world, some programmers use the quest for perfection as a way to hide from commitment. It’s a fear reaction masquerading as a higher principle. I suspect for some writers, too, it’s a shield from criticism and rejection: if you’re still “perfecting”, you’re not sending it out where it might get rejected.

  39. Kort says:

    Wow, this goes with just about everything else that’s been going on in my writing life right now, starting in October when I went to a con and an editor I knew demanded to know why I hadn’t volunteered for the Fairy Tales panel. Um, I wasn’t invited as an author? I’d gotten a half-price pass as another editors assistant? He then wanted to know why I hadn’t had the story I’d sent to him 5 years earlier published. He could’t buy it (for reasons he’d explained in the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received) but thought it was great and had been looking forward to seeing it published.

    Something about the story didn’t feel right and I just couldn’t see it. I held onto it to revise and then life happened and I ended up not writing for almost 4 years. A friend and I decided we were going to try the self-publishing thing as an experiment and, since we’re both editors, work on each others stories. She found the thing that didn’t feel right, I fixed it with 2 lines, and we put it up on Amazon.

    It wasn’t perfect and created a lot of happy anger in the people who have read it (ie. loved the story, hated the ending because OMG how could you do that to her!) but it’s done. I now have people requesting a sequel to it and the other story I published but I’m reluctant because, well, they’re done. Read something else I’ve written!

  40. nathan says:

    To paraphrase Patterson; “thousands of people hate what I do. Luckily millions don’t”

    I also think he said something to the effect that when he started writing and sold very little he was a better sentence-by-sentence writer and now he wrote much worse sentences and much better stories.

    Surely no one can really disagree with such lucidity as your post?

    But someone will, and think themselves noble and right while doing so.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Apparently, there is quite a war on various writing boards about this post. The folks who disagree with me are too scared to post here. Or something. I find it funny. Easier to argue in the shadows, I guess. 🙂

  41. Vanades says:

    Wow, you made me think. I’m currently looking at some of my short fiction that I wrote when I first started. They were published in tiny magazines and now are all out of print. I was thinking about revising them before putting together an anthology.

    Now I’m really wondering if I should only do a copy-edit on them, maybe the occasional tweak and leave them as they were. I did get feedback on them that was basically: Loved it. Favorite story in the whole magazine!

    I guess my perfectionism, the one that is never happy or satisfied, got in my way.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post and for making me think very hard about what I’m going to do. 🙂

  42. Kris,
    Thank you for writing this. It really hit home for me. The desire to be perfect is a bane for many writers. I’ve fallen afoul of it, and had it feed self-doubt and the inner critic. Once more, you’ve done us a big service by calling this out. I’ve found critique groups to be helpful, but also a danger, for the reasons you pointed out. I linked to your post from my site today because this is such an important point. Thank you!

  43. Lucy Francis says:

    Words cannot express how much I needed to read this today.

    It’s so easy to get lost in the morass that the search for perfection can generate. It’s even easier to second-guess every piece of plot and aspect of character you’ve published when the one and two star reviews pop up, no matter how many glowing reviews come in. You can get sucked into revising forever, trying to please everyone.

    One of the writers you made cry today is me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  44. Brad Hafford says:

    Thank you for writing this. Indeed, if instead of tearing down, a workshop critic told me s/he loved my story, I probably would cry. I’ve taken the critiques stoically and even tried to appease those critics, but found that to be the biggest mistake I’ve made. As you say, no story is perfect, and you can’t make all readers happy especially in a workshop.

    I like many of the stories I’ve written that have been destroyed by workshop critics. Maybe now I’ll have the courage to see them in another light, as valid stories that need to find their audience.

  45. Laurie says:

    Thanks so much for this! I’m another one who can’t see why anyone would have a problem with this – you’re not saying to not fix problems while you’re working on it, you’re saying, once it’s good enough, move on. Perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good kind of thing (isn’t it a kind of hubris for we mortals to aim for perfection anyway?)

    There’s more than one author or graphic novelist whose early work I prefer to the later work. Later work might be more polished, but there’s a spark in the early work, maybe it’s less refined, but there was a power there that’s gone later on. Or incidents that might not advance the story, but are a delight in and of themselves. You can polish the life out of things, in words or art.

  46. gingeroni says:

    I’m not going to try to invalidate their reading experience by “improving” on it. I might take out the thing that they love.

    YES. Baen’s been republishing stories by James Schmitz and the editor removed one of my favorite scenes. I agree it was a tangent to the rest of the book BUT I LOVED THE IMAGE.

    • Exactly. I got an app for my phone called “RunPee.” It tells you when you can leave a movie in the theater without missing anything. The RunPee recommendation for Men in Black III has a 4 minute segment about 37 minutes into the movie. And yeah, it has no bearing on the plot, but it’s my favorite scene in the entire film. No! I would’ve missed a great part of the viewing experience if I had taken the app’s advice. That’s like cutting an “unnecessary” scene. Who knows if someone felt it was the heart of the already-published book?

      • Dalya Moon says:

        Okay, now I want that app and I want to watch those 4 minutes as well. My mind is boggled.

      • I want to go to a movie and wait to see if there’s a mass exodus at some “RunPee’ moment. lol

        Loved this post. Have been reading for awhile, but haven’t commented. One thing for sure, I’ve learned quite a bit. 😉 Thanks much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. ~ Aithne

    • Tara Li says:

      The Original Edition of the Edited Schmitz stories is available from the Baen Free Library at http://www.baenebooks.com/p-308-original-edition-of-edited-schmitz-stories.aspx

      I do love Baen – they’ve understood the issues with DRM since the beginning.

    • Cora says:

      This reminds me of something I once read, namely that Edgar Rice Burroughs had a whole chapter cut from A Princess of Mars by the editor of All Story and later reinstated that chapter for the reissue. Guess which chapter is my favourite in the whole book?

      I feel similarly about deleted scenes on DVDs. Quite often I like the deleted scenes better than what was actually in the movie.

  47. Deborah says:

    LOVED THIS. Posted the link to writers’ mailing list I’m on, and will forward to other writers as well in the hopes that this goes viral.

    Nearly snorted my own drink when you described almost snorting yours.

    And had to chuckle at the (few) comments in disagreement, although it’s good you post them as well and TEHO of course. (To Each Her Own, that is)

  48. Darcy Flynn says:

    This was one of the most encouraging and freeing posts I’ve ever read! Thank you! Thank you!

  49. Meryl Yourish says:

    I just finished writing a YA fantasy novel. My ten-year-old nephew got to read it first. His mother told me he finished it in three days. During the school week. Now THAT’s a beta reader. I’m pretty happy with his review. “I liked it.” 🙂

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