Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The relentless pursuit of perfection

One of my college fencing coaches - a man whose picture I am fairly certain is in the dictionary next to "dissolute" - used to tell me I needed to have a beer before I came to train. He would say this during the lessons when he didn't, in moments of great frustration, tell me I needed a good fuck before I came to train. 

See, I like to get things right. Not just right, but perfect. And I want to be perfect the first time, and I get extremely frustrated and short tempered.

An extremely frustrated and short tempered woman with a sword is not a safe person to be around. Neither, it seems, is an extremely frustrated and short tempered woman with a pen.

This lack of patience with myself makes it very hard to for me to write any fiction longer than a short story. Short stories are fine - I tend to write very short ones, and very nearly all of the ones that have been successful have been written in a kind of white heat. I sit at the notebook, and start writing, and basically only come up for air long enough to take the dog out until I am done. When I am writing a short story, I can outwrite the voice of my internal editor.

I cannot write a novel that fast. So there are days - and yes, I am having one right now, though I say that out of honesty, and not out of some desire for a bunch of reassurance that I will get through this - where all I can see are the flaws. My system of magic doesn't quite have the logic built into it yet. One of my characters is still more a set of characteristics than a person. The voice slips on occasion, and too many scenes are white roomed.

The reason I don't want reassurance is that I do know how to get through this. I have a list, and I write down the things that need fixing. My notebook is stuck all about with post-its. I am a good enough writer to see these things and know how to fix them. I am a professional enough writer to have a kick ass team of beta readers who will help me whip this into shape when I have a draft. I have an incredibly insightful agent, who even now has a set of some of these early pages.

I give great revision. 

But I still want to be perfect the first time.


  1. Every time I swear my novel will be perfect on the first draft. I still think that's the better way to do it, as revision isn't as time efficient. Plus, then I have to admit I was wrong in the first place. (Ouch!) But if you'd have to chose between being a great writer and a great reviser, the latter would always win out.
    Best wishes.

  2. Glad I'm not the only one. I probably should have taken up fencing. Or archery. I love the idea of archery.

    When I started editing my novel, my CP said, what the hell are you doing? You've changed the voice. And I said, well, the first draft is supposed to be a load of crap, I have to change it. To which she replied, you're far too anal to write a load of crap, put it back the way it was.

    And it still needed work. Wouldn't it be great to write a perfect draft first time? On the other hand, would that get old? I wouldn't mind finding out *sigh*