When is ‘good enough’ good enough?

Perfectionism. The cliche ‘bad quality’ you say because you secretly think it’s a good thing.

It’s not.

I want to be perfect. I want to do everything perfectly, all the time, without any help.

The quest for perfection is like a bottomless pit. If you step too close to the edge, look too long and hard at it, you might fall in, never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s less than productive.

For things like blogs, I write them, glance over them quickly, then squeeze my eyes shut, back away from the pit, and click ‘Publish’. Then I quell the useless fretting over all the little imperfections I sent out into cyberspace and move on.

But for books, it’s infinitely trickier.

I don’t want them to be perfect in the way I want everything to be perfect. They’re not things I can simply let go off, wearing their imperfections like badges saying ‘I could care’.

Learning to accept that ‘good enough’ is good enough and to let go has been a long journey. Only when I look back do I see that I’ve taken it.

The road doesn’t reach all the way to my books though.

I want them to be perfect. Full stop. Period. End of line.

Focusing on the first book, the question is: Can I make it perfect myself?

Well? Can I?

I’m already in the pit with it. Do I battle on?

Or should I climb out, make it ‘good enough’, and get on with it? Send it to an editor. Get help. I mean, telling the story in the best way possible is what’s important. Not my pride in doing it alone.

But what if I don’t need a professional editor? I’ll never reach perfect, I don’t think, but what if ‘good enough’ is good enough?

The solution is simple. Try for perfect. Accept good enough. Send to agents. Get form rejects. Weep (kidding :P). Then get a professional edit.

Jolly good!

Expect maybe the accepting good enough part, but let’s not get bogged down…

So, about the deadline. What happened is…

I’m sticking to it, no excuses!

Chapter two is done. I used something I had written before. It was one of those moment when you suspect you have had a master plan all along. I do actually…*evil laugh* It had to be edited and trimmed and added-to, but that’s to be expected.

Also, I was wrong when I said I and to write chapters two and three. Chapter three is done.

So…The book is complete. Again. Hopefully for good this time.

Scissors! Come hither! It’s time to edit.

 

 

 

 

Things I do when I have writer’s block

  1. Obstinately try to get through it (= staring idly at the screen, hands poised over the keyboard.)
  2. Read what I’ve written from at least seven pages back.
  3. Jump ahead to a scene I know I can actually write.
  4. Reorganise my numerous book-related files.
  5. Sulk.
  6. Make hot chocolate while singing. (Night-time + no one around = added bonus)
  7. Blare a bitta Beyonce and dance like a crazy woman. (My sisters sometimes think I’m moving furniture or repeatedly leaping off my bed.)
  8. Listen to mopey music*.  (Recommended for use with number 5.)
  9. Lie in the dark, in silence, under the covers, and imagine scenes from my book.
  10. Abandon ship and work on another book.
  11. Read a new book. Oddly enough, I find my younger sister’s YA fantasy novels ideal in this situation.
  12. Reread and old favourite. Most often it’s Pride and Prejudice.
  13. Draw my characters.
  14. Go wild with acrylic paint. (Rarely resulting in a work of art, but still.)
  15. Prettify myself and go people-watching/ shopping. Friends optional.
  16. Sprawl on the couch and watch a movie or an episode or ten of one of  my shows**.

 

 

*Songs may include At My Most Beautiful-REM, Samson and The Call-Regina Spektor, Stop Crying Your Eyes Out-Oasis, Jar of Hearts-Christina Perri,The Reason-Hoobastank, Fix You-ColdplayChasing Cars-Snow Patrol. (I realise these are not overly mopey, but they’re not exactly Shiny Happy People now are they?)

 

** Shows may include Vampire Diaries (Stefan or Damon, I just don’t know! Both?), Bones (Season 7 Promo had me crying with laughter), Criminal minds (Now that JJ and Prentis are back), Supernatural (Season 7 is disappointing me so far, as much as it pains me to say. CASTIEL! :o), Terra Nova (New show…rawr.)

Feel the love.

(I don’t actually know anything. This is a rant of sorts, you probably shouldn’t read it.)

I love my story, ok?

That’s why I’ve spent hours writing, days imagining, and months thinking. That’s what makes a book; that’s how you do it. Classes and workshops and seminars on ‘How to write a book’ are clearly taking the long-winded approach.

You can’t teach someone how to write a book.

The only way to learn is to write one.

Yes, it will probably be terrible. The story, hopefully, will be great. But the writing? You’ll read back over your first draft and laugh at yourself, I guarantee it. Let it out though; laughing is good.

You will also cringe.

At this point the ability to highlight and cut should be taken full advantage of. Words shouldn’t be seen as precious things. When in doubt, make a new file and store all your cut paragraphs in there. If you really think some arrangement of words is golden, mark it. Mining for gold is not fun.

Now I’m not bashing courses and the likes. They might name a course ‘how to write a novel’, but that’s just to get people in the door. They won’t tell you how to write a book, or where to find an idea. No, they’ll tell you about writing; the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and, with any luck, where to put an apostrophe. Count yourself blessed if this is done in an inspiring way. If you learn a lot of new things; congratulations you’re in the right place.

(You should consider reading a book or a hundred as well as sitting in class. You CAN read a book and write your book at the same time. The stories don’t get intertwined, and your ideas remain yours.)

Then they’ll make you write.

You will panic.

If you didn’t have an idea growing beforehand (in which case you should definitely write it down, but you might learn that fact later in the course) then your mind is going to go blanker than a big whitewashed wall. Whatever you come up with will be shit. If offered to read yours out loud, don’t. Don’t make eye contact with the teacher just in case. If you feel in danger, think about crackers and jam to give yourself a faraway look and maybe, just maybe, the teacher will think you are presiding over a world you’ve created and leave you alone.

After that the rules come along. Rules rules rules. Follow them or watch your writing ambitions swirl down the loo. Or don’t follow them, if you have a good reason not to; it’s not that big a deal.

 

In a seashell

How do you write a book? Get an idea, love it, write it.

I can see the next question…

How do you get an idea? Ahem, well let me tell you. You just fricking get an idea, ok? If you need to ask how then I’m sorry but it’s never going to happen. Actually I’m not sorry. Your mind needs to be alive to get an idea. You clearly killed yours. Tut tut.

And then…

How do you complete a book? Write until you reach the end. Huzzah!

And then…

It’s still a bit shit though. Go to a workshop. With a book, or something book-like, completed. That way you’ll understand a lot more of what the host is talking about.

Grinding to a halt

Rules swarmed like wasps in my mind.

They waited, buzzing, at the places where words came from.  When a stream of words was beginning to join up, they attacked. The bit and stung and scared the words away.

I ground to a halt.

At first I didn’t realise what was stifling my writing. The flow of words was blocked, and I didn’t know what was wrong. It was quite distressing. I knew what was happening in the book, what I was suppose to be writing, so I knew it wasn’t writers’ block. And it wasn’t just the book that was affected; it was everything.

Even this baby blog was deprived of posts.

It had never happened to me before-not being able to write.

A few days ago I realised what my problem was (…is). I knew too much about what was expected of a book, and I assumed I would fail to meet, and surpass, those great expectations.

I wrote the first without difficulty because I knew nothing of the rules and requirements that it would have to follow and meet. If someone had told me that I must watch out for ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ and ‘show don’t tell’, that I had to make sure each sentence was stellar and each word had a purpose, I would have scoffed.

‘You can’t confine writing like that,’ I would have said.

And I would have been right. You can’t. You shouldn’t try. It’s bad.

Feck the rules.

Weaving a painting

As I dither on the edge of the publishing world I’ve been thinking about how my book came to be.

If  I had known at the beginning what I know about the story now, I don’t think I could have started. It’s too big. I would have been swamped and clueless.

Somewhere the entire story existed, and I was only privy to slivers.

The first thing I knew was one scene containing two characters. I knew the characters intimately. I could feel their pasts and futures, and how they intertwined. I began weaving with those two threads.

It was loose material I was creating. If you held it to the light you would see through it quite easily. It was a foundation. Like the simple shapes that lie beneath a finished painting.

As the cloth grew, more of the story was revealed to me. I went back and added more threads; characters, subplots, back stories. The picture was treated to colour. I was getting excited; it was gaining form. It was becoming an entity. It existed separate to me, independent.

Finer threads were woven through; careful detail added. I could step back and view the whole piece, or lean in for a closer look. Sloppy areas were pulled tight. Blunders were painted over, lovingly corrected. I knew when it was right.

Finally the fabric was finished, the painting was complete.



“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  E.L Doctorow

The Hunt.

Over a year ago, I was halfway through my first novel.

I was writing in a bubble; just me and my story. The larger world ceased to exist. It had no bearing on the words pouring out.

Long before I consciously acknowledged and accepted it, I knew I was writing a series. At the time I thought it would be a trilogy, but that’s really up to Ara. As I sailed past the 20k and 30k word landmarks, and read back over my chapters, I realised that I would love for other people to read the story.

Read it and love it, ideally.

I’ve never seen an empty shelf in a bookshop, unless it was waiting to house the books in the box at its feet.

A world of books was out there; some with fantastic writing, others with such captivating stories that the standard of writing holds little importance. I thought my novel could have a place among the many and varied published works. This was the foundation which lay beneath my first thought of publishing.

How hard could it be?

So I did a little research.

Bafflement struck. Where were all the Irish Publishers?

I thought Ireland was a rather literary place. In fairness, there are around fifty publishers in Ireland. Most publish non-fiction, religious or educational books. Those who take fiction had a list of genres they publish.

Want to know how many listed science fiction and fantasy?

None.

Penguin and Poolbeg press were the only ones I could consider submitting to. Whatever about Penguin, Poolbeg would definitely not want my book.

My merry cyber-adventure continued.

I broadened my horizons. Well, I looked to the UK. I found a whole host of publishers to sink my teeth into.

As I sifted through the throngs, I learned that most publishing houses would not look at my ‘unsolicited manuscript’. I couldn’t send them my work. Undeterred, I proceed to learn that they accept manuscripts from ‘literary agents’ instead.

So I had to get an agent, and then they would get the publishing deal.

I exhaled a sigh of contentment. Negotiating a publishing deal ought to be left to an expert.

I am not an expert.

I decided to broaden my horizons again and invested in the Writer’s Handbook 2011. The proof that I was not entirely mistaken and Ireland did in fact have hordes of publishers was in the pages. Ireland had six pages, the UK had eighty-eight. But I was searching for an agent then, not publishers. The UK had thirty two pages, Ireland had one and a bit.

Oh my.

Anyway, I began looking for a literary agent who would take my genre.

 If I had a bestseller for every time I read ‘no sci-fi or fantasy’…   

As I worked though the thirty-two pages and searched on the internet, I discovered that not all agents were in the handbook.

(It’s called a handbook, but I could knock someone out with it.  And I could not carry it with one hand if my future in publishing depended on it.)

Moreover, the agent who deals exclusively with sci-fi and fantasy was not listed. Others who were open to the genre were not included either.

I reverted to purely searching online and slowly comprised a short list of agents who deal with sci-fi and fantasy.I was sure there were more, but my editing stint was over and I was back to pure writing. Research went hand in hand with *not* editing.

I didn’t resume my search with strong intent until this week.

If you type ‘literary agents taking science-fiction and fantasy’ in google, most results read no science fiction or fantasy.’

My sigh of contentment had long passed. It was replaced by hyperventilation. A friend found a list of all UK agents who deal with my genre.

It’s a list of thirteen.

Some aren’t taking submissions right now, and seem to do so sporadically. My little list created months ago was in fact exhaustive.

The odds of one out of a handful of agents loving my book, believing in its marketability, trusting me as an author, and being in a position to take on a new client are…slim.

I’d say it’s a very good thing I’m not writing to just get published.

The start

I finished my first book at the beginning. It’s the first of a science fiction series. The ending came to me easily. I could feel that it was the end as I wrote it, and it felt wonderful.

How naive I was; I thought I was finished!

I wasn’t.

I’m now doubting it’s possible to finish a book; finish in an ‘I’m entirely satisfied with this’ type of way.

I realise that I’m contradicting my opening line, but it feels true nonetheless. Today I finished. My opening chapter, rewritten countless times, was written for the last time today…I hope. I have that feeling of pure excitement, but I’ve been wrong before.

And now, reading it, it really doesn’t matter whether or not literary agents fall in love with my first line. I love it. It is the opening chapter I wanted to write. I know my main character approves. So why would it matter what someone else thinks?

I guess it comes down to why I write.

I write for my story. I write for the characters living in my mind. I write because, if i didn’t, the words whirling about in my mind would clog it up completely.

While publishing seems like the logical next step to finishing a book, I don’t think it should ever be the sole point.Writing to get published is not writing; it’s an enterprise. I imagine it feels like work, like a chore.

I hate chores.

And it must be stifling. All that worrying about how agents, editors, and readers will respond must really throw a rod into the creative cogs. Or maybe freeze them entirely. Liquid nitrogen poured over that creative process anyone?

Getting back to my point, I write for me.

I will be supremely happy when I have completed my series; when I have told the story that I, who loves reading, would love to read. Once I achieve that I will print out each book, design a cover, and they will exist in my bedroom if nowhere else.

That sounds so sad!

But I would take it over altering the story for the sake of marketability. I would change how some parts are told, of course. I would work with an editor. But change the actual story?Nuh uh.

The story simply is. It doesn’t change.

With that mentality, the search for an agent or publisher becomes a calm affair. Rejections mean that one person didn’t love it. But I do, and that is what will keep me safe.

And while I would be happy with the books existing in my room, I would love for millions of people to read and love them. And for that, I need to enter the alarmingly-slim-chance-of-success world of publishing.

Now that I have finished the beginning, I’m ready to step into that world.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”Writer Cyril Connolly.