Monday, April 26, 2010

How Perfect is Perfect Enough?

Roni at Fiction Groupie has another thought-provoking post:  Do You Write Quickly Enough to Maintain a Career.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, mainly in terms of *starting* my career.

I keep hearing how your manuscript has to be PERFECT before you send it anywhere.  Look here and here. I wonder, "How perfect?" Is it really possible to write the perfect book? Will I sabotage myself by submitting it if it isn't ready? If I do my very best and it isn't good enough, does that mean I now blew any chance of ever getting it published? Can I revise it and give it a different title and try again?

So I'm terrified to say I'm done.  I mean, I could have been done five times over by now, but how do I know if it's really done?  I want to write a perfect book, but I know my skills aren't good enough for perfect, so is just "pretty good" okay?  How about, "as good as I can make it in four years?"  Is that good enough?

How much agonizing is productive, and how much is just... agonizing?

Should I pay for an expensive writing class, or professional editing?

I have no idea. These things paralyze the unpublished. Well, me at least.

Once you are published, you have professionals working with you to give you professional feedback, like your agent and editor. You also have the confidence of having sold at least one book already.

That's a whole different ballgame. At least,  I imagine it is.  I really wouldn't know.

Roni mentions in her post that some professional writers bang out first drafts in 4-6 weeks.  Wow.  That's impressive. Truly. But I can't imagine that any book written in 4-6 weeks would have the depth of character and story that one written in 4-6 months has. My own work has grown enormously just by having time to stew and get to know the characters and setting so well.

So, what do you think, readers?  Have you submitted work to agents or publishers yet, and how long did it take you to finish them?  Have you had any formal training or any professional editing?  How much did you think it helped?


  1. As good as I can make it in four years will do fine, in my opinion.

    I think it's a mistake to spend too long with a first book (I'm assuming this is your first, Christine), as your second and third are likely to be so much better. Also, if an agent/publisher believes your book will sell, they are surprisingly tolerant of its shortcomings. HC picked up Miranda Dickinson when her book wasn't even finished, plus they got her to change parts of it.

    I learnt the craft aspects of writing on YouWriteOn, where I made excellent writer friends who still help and advise me. I use Autocrit, mainly because of my word echo problem, but am fairly confident in my editing skills.

    Submitting *sigh* - I'm about to start on my third tranche of submissions. Four requests for the full ts so far, but no deal.

  2. Six months is a good time frame for me to write a book and have my beta readers reader it. Although right now I'm about one month behind that goal. I learned a lot from dealing with my editors from my ebook companies. I'll be querying my fourth book soon to agents so we'll see if anything comes of it!

  3. Aubrie, how do you come up with a concept and fully flesh it out in six months? Can you elaborate on the process?

  4. Thanks for linking to me. I responded to your post questions in my comments so I won't repeat that. But I will answer the questions you asked at the end. My first novel took about 6 months for me to write and edit. However, it's significantly flawed, and I have since recognized that it was my "practice" novel. After that, I started blogging, reading books on craft, joined a crit group, and went to a few workshops--basically threw myself into the craft aspect.

    My second book, which was a shorter venture (55k), took about 2.5 months to write and then another month or two going through crit group and editing. This one, so far, is proving to be more successful (contest wins and full requests)--so we'll see. But I did learn with that one to let go of the idea of perfection (at least a little bit).

    Get yours to where you feel good about it (not perfection) and send it out to a few agents (not the whole list) to test the waters. See if you get any interest or feedback. That'd be my advice. :)

  5. Thanks, Roni and Lexi. I've heard several people say not to worry too much over your first book, but the fact is, I love this book. I want it to be published. I don't want to toss it away and write something else. How can I write a better book the second time, if I don't figure out what I'm doing the first time?

    Especially since the second book will probably be a sequel to this one. ;o)

    This isn't actually my first book. It's my third. But the other two never got finished.

  6. I find that most books, like a human child, take nine months for me to write in a first, then revised draft. But each author is different, as each novel is different.

    Don't forget about Lilah's LAST LINES BLOGFEST. I had to post my entry early due to work. I look forward to reading yours, Roland


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