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Topic subjectNo such thing as perfect
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=17&topic_id=91037
91037, No such thing as perfect
Posted by Erin_M_H, Fri Jun-29-12 10:00 AM
I love reading Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog posts on the publishing business. Dean's go up when he makes time for it; Kris's go up every Thursday.

This Thursday's post is for you if you're working on revising your novel (story, script, whatever) for the fifth, twelfth, or two-dozenth time. Go read it, with all the comments. Then get back to writing the next story!


-- Erin
91038, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by dabrownofmn, Fri Jun-29-12 01:19 PM
I like their no-nonsense approach to writing, editing, and business. Reading their blogs over the last six months (or so) has changed my stance and attitude to editing and publishing.
91039, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Myrddin, Fri Jun-29-12 02:35 PM
No, it has to be perfect. This Erin gal has agreed to read it when it's perfect, but not before.
91040, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Erin_M_H, Fri Jun-29-12 02:38 PM
So the drafts I've already read don't count? :Oh:

Go, shoo, spellcheck it and you're done! :sun:
91041, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by KatsInCommand, Fri Jun-29-12 09:20 PM
Timely as ever, Erin. Thanks.
91042, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Erin_M_H, Fri Jun-29-12 09:51 PM
I can't take credit for the timing, but I'm glad it's helpful!
91043, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by RavenCorbie, Sat Jun-30-12 12:46 AM
Thanks for the reminder. I try to keep up on the two of them, but I suspect I've fallen behind.

My whole attitude toward critiques (as a giver) has changed because of things like this.
91044, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by bonniers, Sat Jun-30-12 01:57 PM
Yes, she's right, but -- there's a lot of room between perfection and crap. I've never written anything so bad that somebody didn't love it. That doesn't mean the story didn't need work. It means it had good stuff in it. Certainly after it's done you don't want to keep going back to it, but deciding when a particular work is ready is a lot more complicated than she makes it sound. Especially for somebody like me whose main process is bottom-up design and iterative development.
91046, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Erin_M_H, Sat Jun-30-12 04:59 PM
It can be complicated, yes, but I think over the years, she's probably seen more people who worked things to death than people who submitted things too early -- and given that she was editor at F&SF, that's saying something. I know your process is iterative, discovering the story, clearing away extraneous bits, looking to see what's still missing -- but that's vastly different from getting half a dozen different opinions and trying to rewrite to please everybody, especially the people who hate it.
91054, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by bonniers, Sat Jun-30-12 09:41 PM
She did say you have to know your own process, so there is room for me. And it's certainly good general advice. It's far too easy to start to write to the feedback without even being aware that's what you're doing. That's why I've stopped showing first draft stuff to any but a few first readers who I know will encourage me without trying to direct me.

I was also thinking of the piles of really bad stuff that we had to read for Daikaijuzine slush. But I suspect that the people who ought to keep their stories to themselves are the last people to think they need more work, and are not in KKR's target audience :D

91055, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by RavenCorbie, Sat Jun-30-12 11:23 PM
That's how I took it, too -- that it's more a warning against trying to continually rewrite the story based on feedback than it is against all rewriting/revision. I have read some of Dean's posts on rewriting, and he makes it sound like he doesn't do any revision at all, but buried in some of the comments, he admits that he's constantly changing things as he writes, and does his writing in waves, changing major story stuff when needed (in other words, in Zette's Basher vs. Swooper analogy, he's a Basher). He just doesn't like the idea of trying to make the prose better, and does warn against the idea of endless rewrites. But if you're doing your rewriting while in the drafting/creative mode rather than the critical mode, he thinks it's perfectly fine. I think that's what Kris is getting at, too: don't try to "fix" your writing while in critical voice, but it's fine to make changes that make the story better while you're writing it, whether that happens in one draft or two.

I agree though, as someone who has pretty horrid first drafts, it's really hard to see when it's ready.
91056, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by bonniers, Sun Jul-01-12 09:57 AM
In that case, for at least my own writing, I'd have to flatly disagree. It's all but impossible to see prose flaws and infelicities except in critical mode.

I recommend Ted Cheney's Getting the Words Right for anybody who thinks working on one's prose automatically kills the life, or that critical mode is opposed to creative mode. It might not be right for any particular writer's process, but it shows how editing can enhance creativity rather than fight with it.

Yeah, critical mode can get out of hand, but the trick is to find a balance. It's not to throw critical mode out the window. It sounds like DWS has found a balance for himself by integrating into the writing phase the kinds of things I do afterward; if I tried to do that, I'd kill the growth of the idea. (I picture it as attacking a newly sprouted seedling withhoe and fertilizer and killing it with kindess :teeth:)
91058, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by RavenCorbie, Sun Jul-01-12 11:26 AM
That's interesting. I've found that my critiques have gotten a lot more helpful to me (and hopefully the writer) since I stopped reading them as a critiquer and started reading them as a reader. Maybe my critical side is overdeveloped, and my "reader" mode is a balance?

What do you consider to be prose flaws and infelicities? If you're talking about grammar/proofreading, he does do that afterwards, but doesn't critique the writing. If you're talking about making the sentences flow better or sound better or something, then he would say you're taking your voice out. I don't know if I agree with him on that because I really like beautiful prose and don't think that it has to "kill" the story. I also think it varies depending on genre: I don't think (but could be wrong) that he writes a lot of literary fiction, so that could inform his bias - I think literary fiction (as well as genre novels with a literary bent) does need to concern itself with prose. The question becomes then: how do you evaluate and improve your prose without taking out the voice? Maybe this is addressed in the book you recommended, but that's my personal biggest fear when it comes to fixing prose.

And yeah, I don't think I could work the way he does, either. I've put Cheney's book on my wish list - thanks for the recommendation!
91059, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by bonniers, Sun Jul-01-12 11:56 AM
Yes, Cheney's book focuses on that issue -- looking at ways to enhance rather than hurt the story and voice. I learned about it ten or more years ago when I took a seminar with Cheney. It was the first time I felt like I understood what revision and editing were supposed to accomplish.

Reader mode is a good one to critique from. I think when we critique as writers, we tend to pay too much attention to the "rules" (Gasp! You wrote a sentence in passive voice!) and not enough to whether it works.

By infelicities I meant things like screwing up parallel structure, describing things inconsistently, accidentally calling it a "red fish" in one chapter and giving the fish a name in another. That kind of thing. For instance in my genie story, I had to remember that people from a hot dry climate probably wouldn't use metaphors similar to "snowed under" because they don't have the concept of snow. It's not so much that there was anything wrong with the phrase I used, but I missed a chance to solidify the character's world view. I have a lot of that in my prose.

I'm not saying KKR is wrong. She makes a very good point. But it's like any other writing advice: it needs to fit the individual's needs and style.
91045, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Weird Jim, Sat Jun-30-12 04:12 PM
She makes a good point, but my critique of her would be that she's wordy.

However, doing research for a story project I downloaded some Sherlock Holmes. The first story in the package was Silver Blaze which is the 'Dog in the night' story.

The thing that struck me was that Watson must have had photographic memory, or whatever.
How did he manage to recall, withoout interupt, some three pages of Holmes' summary of the case? Needs explanation. :)

I did write more, but it went a bit obliquely off subject so I deleted it.

I do know that I've often wondered how such and such got past the editors.

Now I may have the answer.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960
91057, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by bonniers, Sun Jul-01-12 09:58 AM
I agree, Jim. If she could figure out a way to apply a bit of judicious tightening to that piece, it'd go from being interesting to being excellent.
91052, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Dreamerscove, Sat Jun-30-12 08:57 PM
For those who don't know where to find it, here is the link: http://kriswrites.com/2012/06/27/the-business-rusch-perfection

I loved this post. Write to the best of your ability RIGHT NOW, and then let it go. Don't revise the heart out of it in this mistaken thought that perfection exists in this world. It doesn't exist. Trying to achieve it sets you up for failure before you've even really begun.

Read the comments. They are just as good.
91053, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Erin_M_H, Sat Jun-30-12 09:15 PM
:sun: The link is there in my post -- just above my name. I just coded it.
91075, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Chevaliersg, Tue Jul-03-12 05:06 PM
This post reminds me of something my Dad told me and many, many other baseball fans have echoed: Baseball is an analogy for life.

If so, then consider this: In 1956, Dan Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the ONLY "perfect" game in World Series history, and the sixth such "perfect" game in MLB history. There have only been 22 (per the MLB stats online) "perfect" games in the history of Major League Baseball.

Everyone has their own perspective on what is "perfect". In the case of Major League Baseball, a "perfect" hitter is one who hits the ball more than 3 out of 10 times and makes it to first base (home runs or extra bases are not considered; it's all about getting to first). So, were he a surgeon, would he brag that he has operated on patients and has a 3 out of ten record on recovery? I think not.

Be it pitching, or hitting, it is recognized that these feats which are termed "perfect" are pretty much phenomenal. They are "one in a million".

I could name many books I consider perfect. Perfection, to me, is when I sit back after having read a book and feel like I was not only entertained but enlightened.

Oddly, most of these instances of satisfaction were with books many term consider low-brow fiction (Doc Savage, The Shadow, anything by E.R. Burroughs).

That is, they were considered low-brow when I was young. Now they are honored for their literary merit (as one critic put it "such as it is...").

Okay, breaking from baseball, take the pulps by example. Lester Dent, the author of most of Doc Savages adventures, cranked out the stories like a factory. He didn't think about "perfect". He had a wife and he wanted to keep her, so he wrote fast, wrote well, and edited once.

This is akin to the baseball anaolgy. You gotta keep pitching; you gotta keep swinging. Perfect will come when you have pitched, swung and cranked out a ton of work.

Me, I'm still pitching and swinging. I edit once. Could that be my problem? Maybe, but until someone invents that remote that stops and/or reverses time, I have to do what I have to do to have product.

Keep pitching. One of those pitches could be the ball that makes it to Cooperstown. One of those hits could make it to the top of the Empire State Building. One of those works could make you financially secure, honored by literary critics or whatever you deem as "perfect".

Play ball!

Keep writing.

Life without honor is life led in vain;

Rem tene; verba sequentur (Grasp the subject; the words will come)

91077, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Weird Jim, Tue Jul-03-12 07:32 PM
Wait! Wait! Give me the ball back. That wasn't the pitch I intended.

What do you edit for? What do you mean by edit? Is it for language, punctuation, or story continuity etc? Is one edit always enough?

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960
91078, RE: No such thing as perfect
Posted by Chevaliersg, Wed Jul-04-12 01:32 AM
Saying I edit once was kind of confusing, wasn't it?

I go through three drafts: The discovery draft, what I call the "real story" draft and the spelling/grammar draft.

The discovery draft is not the story. It's a collection of ideas that will be the story. I don't edit spelling or grammar here. It's a waste of time since this isn't got to be seen by anyone (and if it is they must not be allowed to escape to tell the others).

The second draft is the story. All the parts get rearranged and put into the structure of a novel, short story or novella. Sometimes it has extra parts. Two hearts, two heads, sometimes more toes and fingers than is recommended in the "Mad Scientists Guide to Creating Life or It's Alive! It's Alive).

At this point you should know that Burroughs, Gibson and Dent didn't do a second draft. Often they just wrote a story chapter by chapter and "edited" on the fly. Not recommended.

The third draft isn't really a draft. It's the second draft.

Here, my creation goes through surgery. This is known as the harrowing process of amputating unnecessary body parts from your child's anatomy without taking out their vital organs.

Once is enough.

I do not use spell check. Spell check has betrayed me too much with it's inability to tell the difference between synonyms an antonyms.

In the course of editing for spelling and language there is always the temptation to go back and change the story. That's why I spend a lot of time in discovery draft working out what works and what doesn't. Time is precious to me so I do not spend the time I sometimes should. I have to get it up and running and move on to caring for Sarah and making sure the daily duties (her's included since she's now bedridden) are done.

I've got a method. It doesn't always produce the results I'm aiming toward.

I've finished papering the walls with rejections now working on the ceiling.

Maybe my method needs some tweaking or the stories I'm writing are not as good as I think they are.

I can't contemplate that because I don't have the time to do so.

I just keep pitching. Like the quote by Tina Fey in the article: "The show doesn't go on because it's finished; it goes on because it's 11:30pm."

BTW, I have time on my hands right now since Sarah is at a new hospital where they're running tests on her back to see they can operate safely.

I couldn't go since the cats can't be left alone (Sarah's youngest having moved in with his girlfriend) and someone needs to feed them and keep the house tidy.

If I didn't have writing, I'd go mad.

Life without honor is life led in vain;

Rem tene; verba sequentur (Grasp the subject; the words will come)

91104, And then there's Hemingway....
Posted by Weird Jim, Tue Jul-10-12 09:18 AM
Forty-seven endings before a Farewell to the Manuscript.


I wonder why he kept them all. A sense of his own destiny? Then maybe he shuffled them all of to the publishing house and told them to pick one.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960