Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Perfection Not Required

A long time ago, several years before this blog came into being, there was a seminar/discussion about writing and publishing at the Downtown library. It was free and open to the public, and hosted by several editors from Writers Digest magazine.* I'd always wanted to write Fantasy and Science Fiction**, but at the same time I didn't want to put myself out on a limb and show up as the clueless noob among a bunch of aspiring --and much younger-- writers.

My wife effectively kicked me out the door, saying that "you might as well show up and listen, because that's what you're passionate about". So I took a short jaunt to the Main Library and sat somewhere in the back while the editors presented and took questions from the audience.

The area the seminar took place in had enough chairs to easily hold 100 people, but I'd say it was about 1/3 full with about 10-20 other library patrons wandering in and out, driven by curiosity to stand in the back and listen for 10 minutes or so. What also immediately stood out was that I was very much a minority, both in gender and age, and most everybody else was more ambitious about writing than I was. Selling to a publisher wasn't my primary goal, although that wouldn't hurt one bit; my desire was to actually write a story I was proud of.

I quickly discovered that I didn't have to talk --or worse, present a writing sample-- so I could just listen and absorb what everybody had to say.

And people certainly weren't shy about the craft of writing.

Several of the women there wanted to write and publish poetry, to which my initial thought was "good luck with that". It's not that I didn't think they weren't good enough to get published, it's that poetry is such a niche market that it'd be harder to break into than publishing in general. I silently wished them luck, because I felt they were certainly going to need it.

Others played it close to the vest, like I did, but they did ask about the publishing process. And still others were interested in finding an agent and how one went about doing that.

The editors were knowledgeable, but some things --like catching lightning in a bottle-- they couldn't answer. I mean, finding the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King is as much a crap shoot as it is an educated guess.

***

But the reason why I bring this up is that one of the editors present, the Fiction Editor for the Writer's Market annual, has since gone on to have a successful writing career of her own. I was reminded of that when I saw an ad from our local independent bookstore about a Zoom interview of her in promotion of her latest novel. Sure, being in the writing industry gave her a leg up in figuring some things out, she still had to break through on her own. Plus, another local author is always a good thing for the local arts community in general.

One piece of advice she did give out to the aspiring writers that day has continued to stick with me: a writer has to write if they want to improve. You can't expect to show up, pound out a few lines, and expect to be hailed a genius. 

For every Mozart or Prince, there are a ton of aspiring musicians who have to work their collective asses off just to be considered "average". 

Okay, I know it's not historically
accurate, but while I admire Mozart
in Amadeus I appreciate Salieri's POV.
Don't approve of his actions, however.
 

And her words have rung true for me. 

Over the years of PC's existence, I've learned a lot about how to write. Or re-write, to be honest. Taking a post and editing it before release is critical to my writing process, and one I had to accept before I could improve past a certain plateau. When I was in high school and college, I used to compose at the typewriter because I hated rewriting. That meant I'd sit there and plot out a paragraph or more ahead of time, working everything out in my head before I would type anything. Yes, I would agonize over every single word I wrote, because I didn't want to rewrite a single thing. It slowed my output down immensely, but (I thought) I didn't have to edit the result. The thing is, while I could pull that sort of feat off in high school and get good grades, in college that simply wasn't happening. My professors ate me alive until I admitted that I couldn't just create a "good enough" result one time through.

Nowadays, I can't just pound out some words and then hit "Publish". I know better. And even then, I still miss things afterward, which explains the "EtA:" on the bottom of a bunch of posts over the years. 

***

This sort of approach --trying something, revising, and trying again-- is also important in gaming. I've been reminded of that in spades on our run through Naxxramas, where the raid team hits a wall, spends time examining data and revising the approach, and eventually finding something that works. Sure, there's a lot of strategies for raid bosses already published, but you still have to tweak it to match your particular raid team and their strengths/weaknesses. Even then, you're not guaranteed victory, only a shot at it. 

But it's not only the approach, but the humility that this approach requires, is what makes or breaks a raid team. We're one of the few raid teams left on our server that is still pushing deep into Naxxramas that hasn't yet killed K'T, and what keeps us going is that we're mature enough to handle setbacks. That doesn't mean we don't get frustrated --oh boy, do we-- but what's important is to not let those frustrations overwhelm you.

I don't drink Jack Daniels, but I still found this funny.




*It's perhaps a little known item, but Writer's Digest is based out of Cincinnati, even though the parent company is located in New York City. 

**I have a copy of Isaac Asimov's Asimov on Science Fiction, a collection of his essays on writing SF, around the house somewhere. I was also inspired by Stephen King's On Writing, which interweaves a bit of his own history of learning to write along with understanding the craft of writing. Both are interesting books, and I highly recommend taking the time to find and read them.

10 comments:

  1. Yikes, how could they not pack the room to listen to the people from Writer's Digest? I'd think that would be really popular. Are you thinking of this because you've been writing some fiction lately? You should keep going if you're enjoying yourself.
    I like this by Edgar Rice Burroughs:
    “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.”
    I also liked King's On Writing, back in the day when I still read everything he wrote. I see writers all the time referencing it and how much they love that book.

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    1. I hadn't been thinking of my recent attempts at fiction, but there was a story I just kept pounding out for hours at a time about 10 years ago. That story was inspired by the seminar, but about 250 pages in I realized just exactly how much of a Mary Sue story it was and so I shelved it. I think the bones of the world, however, were pretty solid, and maybe I ought to return to that setting with something much less Mary Sue driven.

      But the immediate inspiration for this post literally was that email, and I thought "Oh cool! She's putting out more novels!" From there, I realized just how much the advice she gave in my pre-WoW days was applicable to gaming and MMOs and raiding.

      Okay, since you remember On Writing, what was most interesting story he had about his youth? I vote for the using poison ivy to wipe his butt after taking a crap in the woods.

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    2. It's been a long time since since I read On Writing. Two things are in my memory of it. One is "go for the gross out". This obviously works since it worked on you! The other thing is his dislike of adverbs. He's a bit over the top on that subject.

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    3. Oh yeah, the adverb thing. Yes, because of him, I've been limiting my adverb usage quite a bit. "Sometimes, however, ya just gotta let a few adverbs fly," he added cynically.

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  2. When it comes to perfectionism, I am always reminded of this great post from way back (now it's only available via the wayback machine):

    https://web.archive.org/web/20200426211456/https:/mikedarga.blogspot.com/2008/12/perfectionism-is-opposite-of-learning.html

    Perfection is the end of learning, trying and progressing - it's the end of everything. Striving for excellence and quality is great but the moment it becomes a hindrance, it's toxic. Just write and make art, make new and glorious mistakes, as Neil Gaiman would say.

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    1. Or to put it another way, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

      But yeah, when I would compose at the typewriter (yes, a real Smith Corona typewriter) I would try to get things perfect the first time. Learning to let go and be imperfect was huge. Even now, I am reluctant to keep writing if I don't have something that looks halfway decent to write; I have to give myself permission to write something truly annoying and basic like "They fought. She won," down just so I can get past that and move the narrative forward. Once something is written, I then go back later and go "Oh, I see now. Here, let me expand this...."

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    2. And that old Archive of that blog made me sad, because while stuff posted on the web lives on, so many blogs have fallen away.

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  3. Yes! I'm with that! Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the really, really great. I hope Card's still out there. That reminded me of many years ago someone offered me a box of books they'd read and wanted to get rid of. I saw some of King's book and thought, oh no, not for me.

    Joke was on me as I think I've read every one on his since then. He, more than any author ha the ability to make me really care about the characters Flawed, not all good. Doesn't matter. Almost everyone else I love is science fiction so I should read both Azimoth's and King's book on writing.

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    1. Thanks, have to try that next. After reading this I bought the King book and I'm enjoying that!

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