I had a brief exchange recently with a new follower on Twitter. This man is a stay at home dad with four kids, and amazing writing productivity. Yet he’s still looking for ways to increase his output because he believes that by writing more he’ll become a better writer, faster.
I couldn’t help but remind him that quality is as important as quantity. (Sue me, I’m a devil’s advocate.) I think there is just as much to be learned from the revision process as there is from composition. Learning to let your subconscious do its thing is important. Learning how to critique your work by seeing what works and what doesn’t teaches your subconscious to do better next time. The trick is to not get bogged down in endless revisions.
Actually, I think that writing a lot is important. That’s why I encourage beginners (and others who ask) to write short stories at first. You can create an entire story arc, experiment with voice, POV, plotting, and character development in a small package and bring it to a conclusion in days or weeks instead of the months a novel requires. (Yes, short stories are different animals from novels, but they’re similar enough to be a good starting point.)
Just after I had the exchange on Twitter, I stumbled upon a post from a couple of weeks ago by Kris Rusch on the topic “Perfection.” What I took away from Kris’s essay was that there is 1) No ultimate arbiter of perfection, 2) The single most important criteria to use in evaluating a story is not the quality of punctuation, imagery, or plot, but whether it entertained you, 3) Strive to write the best story you can right now, not for perfection, and then, 4) Move on to the next best story you can write.
That’s where the synchronicity comes in. I just finished reviewing FORBIDDEN TALENTS one last time before sending it to my editor. This book was the second novel I finished. It’s been through more than one critique group, but I hadn’t looked at it in over a year. I read through it again to clean up word processing artifacts, and touch up word choice here and there. I wanted to clarify things for readers who haven’t read DANGEROUS TALENTS. Fortunately I didn’t find any glaring problems. Does that mean I wasted my time?
Remember Pareto’s Law? Eighty percent of your results come from 20% of your effort. The time I spent on FORBIDDEN TALENTS this week was not part of the most productive 20%. Whatever entertainment value the story has was already there.
And yet, the devil’s in the details. I can’t help thinking that my readers will have a slightly smoother ride because I spent that extra bit of time. Will that mean I sell more books? Who knows? But I do know that I’ll be sending FORBIDDEN TALENTS out into the world with the confidence that it is the best I can do, right now.