I’ve read amazing authors, from Ken Kesey and John Steinbeck to James Lee Burke and Harper Lee, whose perfect, seamless prose carried me away to those wonderful, far places where books transport us. I never imagined I could be one of them. They never inspired me to write.
My inspiration came from a very forgettable culinary mystery I got from the library. So forgettable that I can’t recall the name of the book or the author. I only remember reading it and (after I figured out who dun it and why, say a chapter in) thinking, “This got printed, and the library bought it. I could do w-a-a-a-y better than this.”
I thought about Tami Hoag, who started out writing mediocre romantic suspense and who now pens first-rate thrillers. I had a bit of a “Doh” moment. “Just because you start poorly doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. You can get better.”
These two instances gave me the courage to proceed when I dared myself to write a novel. They created a benchmark I could beat. “I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be better than that.That will be good enough.”
It got me through my first novel, which is now in the same library with the nameless culinary mystery.
It’s important to have such a benchmark when you’re writing a book because a book is never finished. You just stop tweaking it and decide to let it go. Painting doesn’t have the same problem. You can only paint so much before you ruin your work with over-painting. The skill in painting lies in learning to stop before you hit that mark. Not so with writing. You can revise until Judgement Day and beyond.
“Good enough” gets published. “Not perfect yet” grows old with you, never leaving home.
I’m in a dangerous place. I proved I could write an engaging novel with A Shot in the Bark. I proved it wasn’t a one-off with Drool Baby. Now I’m in the final hours with Maximum Security and I want to make it better than ever. I’m being lured by the idea of perfection on my nth pass, goaded by my editor’s
challenges to my creative genius suggestions.
I haven’t found my new benchmark, my new standard to beat, and it’s driving me a little crazy. But the calendar comes to my rescue. In 13 days, I’ve got to stop. I have a launch party to host. Maximum Security is already better than my past work. It will be good enough.