My first attempt was full of cliches, passive writing and confusing POV. I was excited that I would soon be a New York Times best-selling author. Along with a bad case of new writer syndrom, I had the where-with-all to know there were other writers out there I could learn from and I went on a quest to find them.
Those first chapters pretty much sucked, but there, from the ashes of bad writing, arose a wonderful character. I knew his history. I knew where he came from and where he was going and why. I knew what was stopping him and how he would get around barriers. I gave him life and he’s taken up residence in my mind and still talks to me at the oddest moments. I think that’s why writers are weird people. It’s difficult to be normal when you have someone else riding shot-gun in your head.
Three or so chapters into this character’s story, I learned a few things about writing and made changes. Then I learned a few more things, attended writers’ functions and became thoroughly depressed. I scratched much of what I’d written and started over, but the heart of my character stayed.
Digressing...I love books and always have. The written word fascinates me. I have a very distinct memory of my mom walking by me, stopping to look at me with a smile on her face, then taking a book out of my hands to turn it right-side up and put it back into my clutches. I remember where I was sitting when that happened. I was probably about three years old. Yep, I’ve always loved books and reading, but once I learned a little about writing, I came to love it more.
I finished that first story, after giving it chapter-by-chapter to my critique group and incorporating their suggestions. I received good feedback, from writers, readers and contest entries. It finalled with, according to the contest coordinator, the highest first-round score they’d ever had. I was proud and, with the feedback I received, I started editing. I found an online critique partner (because my in-person critique group was tired of reading that first story). The new partner said, “This is ready. Get it out there.” I thought she might be right, but I was still editing. I was also working on newer work, but that first story just wasn’t quite good enough yet.
Then Mike and Marne said, “This is ready. This is good. Get it out there. And for God’s sake, leave it alone.” I thought they might be right, but I was still editing.
Our critique group went through a few changes. People left, new peopled joined. Fresh opinions! I submitted the book again. I didn’t realize it then, but I am somewhat of a perfectionist. When the new blood made suggestions, I saw problems with the manuscript and I set aside other projects and started tearing the book apart. Fixing things, changing things, re-writing.
Now, ten years later, the story is in pieces. Worse, along the way, while trying to make it perfect, I lost my voice with this manuscript. It’s tragic. I mourn often.
Unlike other losses I have had in life (which, I’m fortunate enough to say, are few) time has not healed this wound. My character is pissed. He tells me about it daily. He wants closure. It's a good story. I screwed it up by trying to make it perfect.
I have a new belief from this experience. I believe there is no perfection in writing, because perfect writing is boring writing. No perfection, only story, characters and voice. Someday I’m going to let Jesse out to play and I’m going to tell his story. I have to distance myself from the mess he’s become first.
What do you think about perfection in writing? How about your characters? Do they holler at you while you’re trying to hold meaningful conversations with your children, your spouse or your boss? What about your first manuscript? Did you finish it? Did you submit it?
Are you still in mourning like I am?