One hard thing about writing is that there is no clear finish. Sure, the story ends, but then I get to go back and start editing. Then come are critiques and beta readers, more editing, more tweaking, more fussing. It’s never perfect. There is always a typo I wonder how I missed, oh, and by the way, how is it I didn’t pick up on the fact I used the word “perfect” three times in one paragraph until now?
I repeatedly see writers offering the advice to make sure the manuscript is perfect before hitting send. Get rid of all the typos. Keep sending it out for crits and betas until there is nothing else to fix. Get that manuscript so clean it shines, then polish it until it sparkles.
Guess what. I’ve given up on that advice.
In my dead manuscript file there lives a story so fussed-over, so poked and prodded, so terribly comma abused that is it no longer fit for life in polite society. I’ve ruthlessly trimmed it’s adverbs until it was starved for descriptive content. I squeezed out every extra word, made the writing so tight it couldn’t breathe. I plucked it clean of commas, only to turn around and replace them. I rearranged sentences and paragraphs to the point it became confused and lost all sense of direction.
My once-beautiful manuscript is now a pathetic beast. Now that I know better, I ought to go back and fix it. It seems like a simple solution, right? But I’ve tortured the poor thing to the point I can’t work with it. It hurts to look at it, so i just leave it in the files, letting it exist in solitude.
All because I tried to make it perfect.
It took me a while to come to grips with the idea that my manuscript will never be perfect. There will always be something to tweak, something to adjust, move or remove. I’ve had to learn to find the point where it’s good enough.
That begs the question, what is good enough?
For me, good enough means the story is there. The characters are identifiable as real people. I’ve ironed out any grammar issues and fixed as many typos as I and my readers can find. Good enough means the editor or agent reading will be able to see my story and its potential, not all the things that need fixed.
I’ve worked out a pattern for my edit rounds. I do a clean up, marking then fixing any story points and plot issues. I fix any typos I see and make sure I have the story flowing the way I want it, then I send it to my “cheerleader” crit partner. I think of her as a cheerleader because she’s very encouraging. Her notes are full of things she loves. She reenforces the positive and she tells me what I’m doing right. Her notes aren’t all pom-poms and back flips, though. She’s an experienced author who understands the market and will point out major problems that need revision, and I take her advice to heart.
My second reader is less experienced in the market, but she’s very good at nailing my weak points. She’ll flag a section that is needing more description or isn’t strong on character. She seems to have radar pointing her to the sections I just wanted to get through so i could make my way to a more fun scene.
By the time I get through these two, I expect the nuts and bolts of my book to be sound. I run it past one final reader, someone I can trust to catch cleanup issues. She’ll catch those typos, commas and repeat words, and give my plot one final check.
Then my manuscript… still isn’t perfect. I still have trouble calling it done, still can’t say I’m there. This is where I let go and have faith my story will find its wings on its own. I’ve done all I can.
Do you have a deformed and abused manuscript in your files? How did you learn to say your work was “good enough”?