I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a let-down after sending that last round of edits to an editor. There is still one more round of editing to go, but that’s mainly for typos, missing punctuation, and formatting. That’s not changing words, tightening story lines, or filling in plot holes.
And, I’m not even sure if it’s a let-down or if it’s the realization that I’ve finally let my baby go into the world, where it will sink or swim on its own merit. Any author will tell you, there comes a time when as a writer, you have to stop tinkering, stop puttering around with the words, and let that writing go out into the world. The other night, I was re-reading the critical introduction to my master’s creative thesis, and while I thought, “Dang! That’s good!” there were still places where I wanted to change things. And, I’ve had my master’s for almost three years now. If I was honest with myself, I could have written more in that critical introduction, could have changed a lot of things—but there came a point in time when I had to let it go and give it to my master’s committee.
The same with any novel. There is a point when as an author, I have to say to myself, “Stop!” If I don’t say that, I would never stop writing and rewriting a manuscript. I have to admit to myself that it’s not perfect, it never will be, but the manuscript is as good as I can make it and live with.
For a while, I was hung up on making the first draft PERFECT. Needless to say, I never got past the first couple of pages, because I was so concerned with making it perfect that I couldn’t keep writing. One of my friends, who wrote for a while, never got past that “It has to be perfect!” in the first draft stage. And, I think the world lost a wonderful fantasy writer because she couldn’t make that internal editor shut up. I read some of her early stuff and was blown away with the detail, the richness, and the depth that she wrote. It’s a real pity that she could never get past the first ten or fifteen pages because her internal editor wouldn’t let her go on until those first pages were perfect. And, because she couldn’t make that internal editor happy, those first pages never were perfect.
What got me over needing to make the first draft perfect were a couple of things. The first was I learned how to turn off the internal editor. Even when the editor was screaming things weren’t perfect, I forced myself to keep writing. I told the editor that I could go back and fix what wasn’t perfect. And, to reinforce that resolve to keep writing, I made a sign to hang over my desk that was a quote of Ernest Hemingway. That quote reads, “The first draft is always SHIT.”
I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway, but seeing those words allowed me to turn off the editor.
I could also mention the other quote I have hanging over my desk, but then I’d also have to try to explain Derrida and his literary theory and I don’t think there’s enough time left in the universe to explain deconstructionist theory. (Even though I admit, when it came time to write critical literary papers during my master’s program, that was my favorite form of literary criticism to use, because all of life is about assumed and imposed binaries.)
The second thing that got me over needing to make that first draft perfect was my friend. It was so frustrating to hear the excitement in her voice when she got an idea for a new book, and she’d start writing, and a few weeks later, to hear the absolute dejection in her voice because she couldn’t make it perfect. And, for her, it had to be perfect before she could continue. I refused to allow the characters who spoke so strongly to me—strongly enough that I had to sit down and write their story—die a quiet death because I couldn’t get past the needing to make it perfect. So many wonderful characters that my friend created died, their voices never heard, their worlds never explored—all because she couldn’t make her internal editor shut up. I wasn’t going to do that to my characters, and I wasn’t going to be that author. If my characters die, it’s because I wrote their deaths—crying (or in some cases, feeling a grim sense of satisfaction) the whole time.