Tuesday, 3 July 2012

If A Job's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Well

I'm working on yet another draft of the never ending book.  I was telling a writer friend this and they sympathetically asked what the problem was. 'The writing,' I said cheerily. 'It's not good enough.'

They were taken aback by this - they'd assumed I was going to say something like, there's a plot problem in the middle.  Something specific, rather than a general 'not good enough'.  But that's the truth - it's not good enough (yet).

I read once that Richard Curtis's script editor wife reads through his draft scripts writing NFE in the margin.  NFE stands for Not Funny Enough.  He re-wrote until there were no NFEs.

If I let something I'm not proud of go through it might get published but I will know it fell below my standards.  And readers will know it falls below my standards because they're not stupid, and word of mouth will be not so good.  Then fewer people will buy the next book.

And yes, when you read about the sales that 50 Shades of Grey is getting, despite the clunky writing, it is tempting to cut corners.  But I would know.  And readers will know.  So I'll just have to carry on re-writing until it's good enough.


Jim Murdoch said...

The danger here, of course, is that NGE (Never Good Enough) becomes your benchmark. This is an area where blogging has helped me because even with my stockpile of articles I still can’t work on them indefinitely. There has to come a point where I just say, “It’ll do,” and post it. As a recovering perfectionist that is something of an achievement. The hardest thing is putting yourself in your readers’ shoes and wondering what they expect from you. I find that very hard to gauge. How does one measure expectation? This, for me, has been the negative side of publishing because before I got caught up in all this Internet malarkey I simply wrote for me and I’m finding that harder and harder to go back to. I’m now constantly aware of a reader peeking over my shoulder but I’ve no idea if he’s smiling or frowning or crying or bored out of his tiny little mind. I just know he’s there judging me. There comes a point though when we’re as good as we’re going to be. Athletes don’t keep on improving—or if they do it’s by fractions of a second—and I think we also need to set realistic goals for ourselves. If I tore up every poem that wasn’t brilliant writing I’d have nothing to send out. The perfectly good poems get accepted, do fine and get published and every now and then I do manage a brilliant one. The same goes for stories and novels.

Marina Sofia said...

I think both Sarah and Jim are right. I love this striving for perfection - as long as we learn when to let go...

Claudia Cruttwell said...

I understand that you have to let go at some point but I think this post is so right in emphasising the importance of going through the work with the sole purpose of improving the quality of the writing. I have a tutor at the moment who writes 'do better' in the margin. This is where she feels I have sold myself short with, for example, a lazy description, or cliche. The point is to be the very best that YOU can be.

Sarah Duncan said...

Jim, you're absolutely right - Never Good Enough is something to watch out for. I know there's a risk of perfectionism and never letting work go 'out there', Sorry to hear you feel your readers are judging you, especially as it must take a lot of the pleasure out of writing.

Marina, learning to let go is important. I think setting one's own bar is a bit different to perfectionism - I'm looking for OK by my standards, not perfection.

Claudia, wow - your tutor is up-front! (But right...) Being the best you can be is what it's all about IMO.