Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Your Writing will Never be Perfect

Have you ever spent hours on a single paragraph, or pulled your hair out while trying to get that sentence just right? When I first started writing I would spend months on a chapter before I could move on to the next. Months! That's why it took me nine years to complete my first novel. While I might write that first draft a lot faster now, I still spend a long time adjusting, rewriting, editing, tweaking. While this is normal, and in fact should take up most of our novel writing time, there is a limit. As writers, I think it's important to know we can't reach perfection, and here's why:

1. Because we're human. To be human is to change and grow and that's reflected in our writing. We're constantly growing not only as people, but as writers as well. If we're doing it right, then we're continually learning the craft, and developing our style. This doesn't change. May we never stop pushing ourselves to do better and be better. Consequently, this means what we wrote six months ago will be very different to what we'll write today, or six months from now.

2. Because it's how we're trained. Even if our writing approaches close-to-perfect, we have this in-built need to search for what might be wrong with it. Even when I read a standard novel, I still edit it in my head. I can't help it. Sometimes I can switch the inner editor off and simply enjoy the story, but it's a conscious decision not to edit.

3. Because perfection is not a constant. Writers are moody creatures. One day we'll love our work and the next we'll think the same piece is damp dog with fleas. There's no getting out of it. On those doggy days we just have to be kind to ourselves … and the dog.

4. Because perfection takes too long. Yes it's important to strive for the best you can do, but if you'd like to get published this decade, then you need to make the decision to stop tweaking and start sending the manuscript out into the big wide world.

5. Because a great story is what matters. If your story is a rehash of everything that's gone before, then no amount of perfection will save it. If your story is unique and has that special spark, then imperfections won't be what holds it back.

6. Because we can't please everyone—not even ourselves. As I said before, all we can do is our best. By that I don't mean pick up a that-will-do attitude. Striving for perfection is still important, crucial even. We still need to send our work out to critique partners, check our grammar, make sure there are no glaring plot holes. We just need to accept that absolute perfection is unattainable.

Do you have trouble letting a piece go for fear it's not perfect? How do you decide when your manuscript is ready?

Photo: None of my photos fit for this post, so I went for one I took in the port of Vila, Vanuatu, last year. Check out those beautiful waters! No colour adjustment. That’s how they appear!

Note: Last week I received an email offering me a $30 Amazon gift voucher if I’d let Grammarly sponsor my next post. I checked out their website and thought, “Cool! Book money!” All they wanted me to do was place at the top of my post, “I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because… [fill in the blank with something clever for a chance to win a $1000 gift voucher]”. I’m the first to admit I’m a wary soul when it comes to the intertubes but this sounded like a good deal. I wrote my post and went to their website to run a grammar check of my words. 

As the check ticked off a bunch of grammar rules, a little graphic, which is designed to scare you, placed little red crosses on flipping pages. Oh noes, it’s picked up some errors! When I waited for the results, they didn’t come through. Instead I got a list of how many faults it had picked up. 44 errors! Okay, fine. Where are these errors? Oh I need to officially sign up for the 7 day free trial! Siiiiigh. Annoying, but fine. So I started filling in the three stage form only to discover that I had to give them my credit card details on the final form to get the 'free' trial. I could, of course, cancel at any time. 

Why would I give my credit card details for something I’ve never seen in action? Is it so hard to give me a real free trial? This screamed dodgy as a dodgy screw in dodge town. Now, this service could be legit, and if I ever find out for sure (without risking my credit card details) I’ll be more than happy to share here. Seems to me, if it is legit, then surely they’d have more faith in their product to offer a genuine, risk-free trial?

Update--Tuesday 25th June: The people at Grammarly have kindly given me a two week risk-free trial of their editing program. Looks like they do have faith in their product after all. We'll see how it goes.


81 comments:

  1. I got that same email this week. I think it's probably one of those things you have to jump through hoops and chase up constantly to get. That way they get a lot of free advertising and rarely have to pay up. I do like grammarly, but it seems to glitch with Google+ - it deletes any words it feels are spelled incorrectly, leaving gaps in my sentences.

    But yes, there are days my wet, flea-ridden dogs look better than my manuscript.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey,

    I'm about this >>.<< close to going ahead with the Grammarly trial - because I've used it years ago.

    IF there are any issues, I'll *definitely* let you know :)

    PS... I don't know what you're talking about.

    I ewes Capitail "R" because Iam considering myself too bee a reel riter, and wheel I *used* to be conseated about mye Riting, nowe Iam parfait.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yur handle on the rittun wurd impresses me good.

      Delete
  3. Yeah I don't like it when sites ask for credit card info for free trials. Perfection is impossible but it is still essential to ensure you've written your best possible work. Great discussion today.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm one of those endless perfectionists-- I have to loosen up a little and start sending work out!

    And I got that Grammarly email too -- I'm just too frazzled right now to look into emails like this so I gave it a miss.

    I shall follow Mark's blog to see what he has to say about the whole thing once he's tried it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Start sending! If you're down to little tweaks here 'n' there, then your manuscript is probably ready to go.

      Delete
  5. Yeah, I was told at school that an essay could never be PERFECT because there's always going to be something (no matter how tiny) that you can improve.

    I think I've done two trial things online where I had to give my credit card details and then cancel after so many days so that I wouldn't be charged. Fortunately, they were both legitimate!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I got an email fro Grammarly as well - and even after checking out their site, ignored it. That's for letting us know what happened.
    I am a perfectionist and it's difficult to let that go when writing. We'll never hit it though. Only God is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I use Gramnerly Lite which is free...so they didn't send me that email. I would never go for any offer of that type...give your credit card deets...never!! Glad you didn't.

    As you see I tippy toed into the deep with my excerpt from FP. I'm taking forever but i read recently that if you feel your ms isn't ready it probably isn't. Look at all the things your editor's eye picked up...

    Yep at this rate I probably will be a bit longer before i send my baby out...but I cringed recently when reading yet another blogger's self pubbed book which absolutely murdered commas. It is shocking. I think maybe he/she didn't even use crit partners.

    It takes a lot of people to finally create a book.

    Denise

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah I think the self pubbing authors who don't use CPs or editors give self pubbing authors a bad name ;) It's a shame too, because often their stories could shine that much brighter if they paid attention to the little details, like correct use of commas.

      And I totally agree with your point about trusting yourself, along with being honest with yourself, to know when your manuscript is ready.

      Delete
  8. Oooh Lynda!!! Glad you didn't give out your credit card details!!! No, no, no!! Good for you!!!

    I think I decide when my ms is ready when it doesn't return from critique pals with lots and lots of red marks on them! LOL!!

    Take care
    x

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yes, often the real charm is in the imperfection.
    Imperfections make us different! Best regards!

    ReplyDelete
  10. It is so hard not to want to keep editing our work. I can't believe it took you that long to finish your first novel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, painful, huh. I had no idea back then. And that was when I thought writing was easy too. Hahahaha!

      Delete
  11. Thanks for the warning about the email.

    If I perfected any of my manuscripts, I'd have a book contract by now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree. Perfect does not equal a book contract. A top notch story doesn't even equal a book contract, or great writing. I personally think the stars need to align for such an event.

      Delete
  12. Sounds very dodgy to me too!

    It's hard letting that piece of witing be 'finished' ... haven't quite accomplished that yet :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. bottom line: because a great story is what matters...isnt that the truth...and i wonder if when people become so fixated on making the words perfect if they dont really doubt that story so they have to lipstick the pig...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. pig look pretty awesome with lipstick...

      but, yeah. Get the story right first.

      Delete
  14. Perfection. *grimaces* What's that, anyway? Really. We all strive for it, yet we're constantly evolving beings. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

    ReplyDelete
  15. what what? Nobody told me we're human! I'm the last one to get the info....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well, you may not be human. You are, after all, a one of a kind :)

      Delete
    2. yes, me is all very Elven.....

      Delete
    3. Elven!! Now that makes sense! I like!

      Delete
    4. What what? Dezzy is not human? Lynda, how could this be! It does explain a thing or two :)

      That email sounds like a scam to me. Amazon's got my credit details and that's as far as I'm willing to go.

      Editing is hard work though I think some of our best work doesn't need much tweaking. Too much editing may result in a perfectly polished piece lacking the heart and soul of earlier drafts. Maybe that's just me.

      I hope you're doing fine. :)

      Delete
    5. lol, Blue. So funny.

      And yes, we can second guess ourselves far too much sometimes.

      Delete
  16. (Ha! Dezmond is funny!)

    It is so hard to turn off the inner editor. Mine kills me even before I start writing, complaining that all my ideas aren't high concept enough to be good. It's kept me from writing for a long time. I'm finally just giving up on high concept and will hope my ms sells to some little epubber. :(

    I got the Grammarly email, too, and ignored it. I'm perfectly capable of proofing my posts. Besides, who cares if there a few typos in blog posts? I see posts like that all the time, and it doesn't bug me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I don't do high concept either. My stories are mainly about the people, even if they are in magical or futuristic settings. But I'm a firm believer there's a place for every story.

      Delete
  17. Replies
    1. Yeah, it kinda is, but I have another one in mind, lol. Yarp, it's been on my mind A LOT lately ;)

      Delete
  18. Ref: Because we're human

    That statement says it all. As humans, we are always evolving, even if it's one tiny bit at a time. We change, preferably for the better :-) We learn more, do more, and retain differently. We strive for but the actual achievement of perfection is a whole other ball of wax.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I've decided I'm not really a perfectionist, I'm just a really slow-witted writer. :P

    And I haven't gotten that e-mail yet, but I would have ditched it right away. The credit card request would have sealed it for me.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Number 6 is so true. We will never please everyone. I've had people comment there is too much dialogue in my books while others say there is not enough. Just writer what you feel inspired and go with it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Whew, good thing you didn't go ahead with that "free" trial. Sounds dodgy to me, too.

    Love this list! Being a perfectionist, it bugs me when I'm not perfect and don't end up with perfect work. But I've come to realize we're human...and we can only do our best at the moment. I like #5--just concentrate on the spark and the story, and #1 is fascinating: we are constantly changing. What we would write 5 years ago isn't what we would write today. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yeah, just look at your early works and you'll see how different your writing is today. I chuckle when I think of my very first manuscript.

      Delete
  22. Oy! Perfect is such a lofty goal, and I do try for it even when I know I'll fail on some front.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. absolutely! It's so important to still strive for perfection.

      Delete
  23. Great post. It is hard to find a balance. But some obsessiveness is good, especially if you DO come up with that perfect passage. As a reader, it's pure nirvana to experience one of those lines or paragraphs where the author totally nails it.

    Thanks for telling your story about Grammarly. I got the same offer, and I was letting it sit in my inbox until I could investigate further. I'll delete it now.

    ReplyDelete
  24. This is a great list.

    The first thing I had to learn is that we won't please everyone. That was a tough hump to get over. I wanted everyone to like my writing - that was a long time ago - lol!

    I know I'm done when it feels right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that hump you got over is one of the toughest.

      Delete
  25. I've never heard of that grammar thing before, but it's good that you listened to your instincts and didn't give them your credit card number. I can definitely relate to your list, especially the part about how we're trained to be perfectionists. I always feel like what I write isn't good enough, and I worry about what other people think. But that just keeps me from writing, so I know I should stop focusing on that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, those doubts do have a way of keeping us from our writing. Bad, bad doubts! I hope you find a way to stop focusing on them.

      Delete
  26. I think #5 is important! If you have a great story, a mistake here and there doesn't matter. Though, I think we should strive to have a great story and have everything else right, too.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Looks like I'm one of the few who didn't get the Grammarly email--bummer :) I hate things like that end up being just a series of annoying hoops!

    Great post, as always :) I definitely have to force myself to walk away from things sometimes, because perfection is just never going to happen. I can be happy with a few "perfect-ish" lines here and there, and that's just going to have to be good enough :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Those sneaky sneakers.

    Yeah, I'm a perfectionist. I guess that's why I'm married to my husband--who insists on shoving my writing out the door long before I'm ready to let it go. We all need someone like that, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your husband sounds awesome. Mine too is a huge support.

      Delete
  29. OMG, Lynda you nailed me perfectly. I can sit and stare at one sentence and reword it a million times. Then when I think it's perfect, the next day I find an error or I change a word or two. Like you said, I have to let it go. With my debut novel being released soon, all edited and ready to go, I refuse to look at it now, 'cause I'm afraid I won't like what I read. In fact I know I wont' like what I read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's actually a comment thing among published authors--they don't read their old work because they know they'll hate it.

      Delete
  30. As for me...it'd never be 'perfect'...coz I think 'perfect' has got a different definition to every other individual...it's an ever altering state!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Yes, yes and yes. Lots of good reasons for letting it go...even when we really want to tweak that line...you know, just one last time. :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. There are times I read a blog post and feel as though it were aimed directly at me. hmmmm. Perfection really is just another perception though. Nice post!

    ReplyDelete
  33. I have to remind myself of this all the time, especially while drafting. Thanks, Lynda!

    ReplyDelete
  34. Unfortunately, perfection is only something to strive for. It kind of stinks when you're a perfectionist, though.

    Sounds like you dodged a bullet with that grammarly thing. My scam senses are tingling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well, I've recently added an update: I've actually been given a two week risk-free trail of the product. As I said in the update, I'll see how it goes.

      Delete
  35. You're list is absolutely correct, and you are not the first one I've heard it from. Perfection is an unattainable time suck. The picture you used is gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
  36. That's a really pretty picture, Lynda. Boy, do I know about all the stuff you have listed. It takes me a dreadfully long time to get anything edited, but I accept that as part of the process. We do have to know when to stop, if, as you put it, we expect to get published this decade. :)

    ReplyDelete
  37. Love your photo! I've been seeing Grammarly advertised everywhere. Happy they came through for you. I use a small service called AutoCrit, and I'm happy with them. But my blog is edit free. No telling how many goofs AutoCrit would find, LOL!

    I'm a tinkerer with my manuscripts. I stop when I'm good and sick of it and feel as if I'd hurl if I had to look at one more page.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, the good ole hurl indicator. I know it well ;)

      Yep, I've given AutoCrit a go as well. It will be interesting to see how they compare.

      Delete
  38. All things I need to keep in mind. It explains why so many writers have waves of doubt.


    Guess who just got nominated for The Liebster Award. Well, if you said you, then you’re right. Drop by Shout With Emaginette to find out more.

    ReplyDelete
  39. never heard of Grammarly. Sounds scary and intriguing at the same time. haha.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

    ReplyDelete
  40. I also received the Grammarly email.

    I used to jump ahead and think I was ready, but now I rely on CP's and beta readers. Also, there's that feeling I get.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Nice photo. I don't think I can define how I decide when it's time to move on. I do a lot of tweaking / editing at the first draft stage and have much less on the backend these days. I much prefer it that way.

    I got that same email last week and just got another today. I'll wait to hear what you say on this subject.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Yes, yes, YES. Spot on post, Lynda! You are always so relevant and helpful. Loved this post. :D

    ReplyDelete
  43. There are soooooo many credit card scams that you have to be careful about giving out details.
    Great post Lynda!
    On the topic of perfection - what's 'perfect' today is a pile of 'you-know-what' when you read it the next day.
    Writer In Transit

    ReplyDelete
  44. I don't know if I've been able to answer that last question...when a story is ready? I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite - I've yet to stop rewriting some stories with th ehop ethat I can still make it better.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I also received the Grammerly. But didn't do anything till now.

    Great post, Lynda. Of course we all strive for perfection.

    Nas

    ReplyDelete
  46. Oh no, if they ask for a credit card number, it isn't free. Remember the line in the M. Night Shyamalan movie Unbreakable about asking for a social security number.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I too have that problem of tweaking, polishing and again tweaking my MS.

    Lyn, I had no such problems with Grammarly. I will let you know if any problems crop up.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Writing does require a lot of tweaking. Sometimes it's hard to know when to let go and submit your work.

    ReplyDelete
  49. I think the one reason that convinces me above all is number 6. You can't possibly please everyone, and that's like the greatest truth of the universe.
    I had a mail from Grammarly too. They offered me only 30 dollar gift card. I feel offended now, hahahaha. Let us know how it goes!

    ReplyDelete
  50. I do have a hard time letting a manuscript go if I feel it could be improved. But I agree, there is a point you have to trust the story, know you've done your best, and let it go. Otherwise you could spend your life on one story. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  51. What a great post, and I agree with each point. Trying to make it perfect is almost impossible because of all the factors.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Your questions and answers are perfect! Good luck with Grammarly.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Perfect writing may be impossible, but that photograph is perfect. Boy, would I love to be there...writing. All your points are dead on about perfection. I dwell and rewrite, and dwell some more. Thanks for a great post, Lynda. ~Victoria Marie Lees
    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  54. This is my biggest fear; that if I put something out there, it's not going to be good enough because it's not perfect. Right now, I know that my writing is developing very quickly, which is scary when I'm still working on the same manuscript I started months ago. But you're right. There is no way writers can get everything perfect, no matter how long they spend trying. Thanks for this post Lynda. I hope I'm not the only one who's found some comfort it in. :)

    ReplyDelete
  55. I read years ago that an artist never finishes his work; he abandons it. That's true for writers. At some point, we just have to say, it's done. Whether is our ideal or not. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  56. I tell myself I've never read a book without a single error in it... or if it's not a grammatical error as such, just something which sounds off, sits uncomfortably. I see a writing style as almost like a fingerprint. The writer has it and works with it... the reader either sees and appreciates it or not. Either way, perfection is subjective, aside from the basics. Of course, written down I see this reasonable argument to move on, not to fixate, but in practice it is quite another thing. :)

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.