Monday, December 2, 2013

Perfection is Not an Option

Last night, a friend asked why I hadn't shared my children's book draft with my new writing group yet.

"I haven't had time to revise it," I told him.

He laughed, and pointed out that most picture books are under 1,000 words. How hadn't I had time to polish one stinking draft? At that point, I could have done a few things:

  • Pointed out that one picture book goes through about 40 revisions before publication.
  • Shared the average length of time it takes for a book to go from 1st draft to final copy:  two years.
  • Hit him with a very packed pillow.
Instead, I wondered if he was right. Not about polishing the draft, but about sharing it with the writing group. Should I share what I have with them?  I'm stuck on a few plot points and know the end is wrong. I'd like to figure these things out and have a better draft to present. But at what point does "presenting a better draft" become Perfectionism? At what point should you get feedback?

You Can't Figure Out What's Wrong

Well, the draft I DID share with the group was an essay that I'd revised several times over the course of 18 months. I'd line edited to death, but still Something wasn't right. I couldn't put my finger on what it was. At that point, any revising would've been worthless-what was needed was a fresh set of objective eyes that would overlook line editing & find the larger problem. Said eyes discovered that the entire essay was a reflection which (gulp) lacked tension and significance for the reader. 

Had I not shared the essay, and waited until I figured out what the problem was, revising again to present the most perfect draft, I'd be waiting forever.

You Can't Figure Out What's Right

Sometimes it's hard to know what the best choice is, when it comes to things like point of view and ordering scenes. And while going with the best possible guess might work, getting other opinions could save you a lot of work. I can't help but wonder, if I'd shared my essay after only a few months in, could I have gotten the feedback I needed and saved myself the work of all of those useless revisions? Sometimes we need to take the long(est) path before we're ready to hear the truth. Other times it's just an annoyingly useless 18-month hike.

You're Afraid They'll Think Less of You

Under all of that perfectionism is the fear that what we've done isn't good enough - that they'll wonder what the heck we were thinking when we wrote that and look at the disaster of an attempt with an internal oh, lord. And that fear is the BEST reason to share with a trusted, supportive group of writers. Because without their encouragement, the fear makes it too easy to get stuck in the revise, revise, revise mode.

Anyways, the odds are what's there is pretty darn good. And even if it's not - how else can we make it better? Everything's a work in progress. I think it was Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way who said that before we can be really good at something, we have to be willing to be bad. Sometimes, really bad.

As for my children's book, I think what I really need at this point isn't a read-through, but help figuring out the right way to go with my plot. Perfection may not be an option, but asking for help is a pretty great alternative.


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