To my horror, I’ve just read that people can spend years and years working on a single literary oeuvre.
Years, already. Oy vey. Who knew?
As a nitpicker born and bred, this would ordinarily be music to my ears, because there’s absolutely nothing I love more than working on something intricate and really complex that I can fuss over. (I knit lace for entertainment; does that tell you something?)
But in fact, I’m anything but pleased to know about this literary thing.
Why is that, you may ask. Well, since you’ve asked, I’ll tell you.
If it takes all those years to write a book, then it’s clear that I’m much too old for this writing business; I simply won’t live long enough to write an entire book!
Apparently, you see, there is always just that one more rewrite that could potentially uncover the perfect bons mots that will magically transmute all those other thousands of ordinary, mundane words we’ve churned out into solid literary gold.
Therefore, above all else, we must keep struggling along, nose-to-pencil as it were, until we find that elusive, magic, perfect spot: the wordsmith’s Grail. The literary G-spot.
Harrumph. Since I’m practically older than God now, I suppose I’d better start looking for some kind of writing that I can actually complete before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Oh, wait a minute….I’ve got it, by George!
I’ll get off my buttinsky and concentrate on writing perfect paragraphs.
Three of them, to be exact.
That project should take me the rest of what’s left of my miserable life. Then I’ll leave one golden paragraph to each of my kids—who are the reason I wanted to write a book in the first place.
Obviously, I’m way out of my depth here in thinking I can write an actual book. Lesson 1 in Susannah’s Unwritten Handbook of Life, entitled How to Survive in the Literary World will have to read “Don’t be trying to swim with the big fishies when you’re just a wee crappie.”
So okay. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing an actual tome.
But, come hell or high water, I’m going to keep on writing my little blog posts, because it’s fun, it’s healthy (at least emotionally), and it’s good exercise for my atrophying brain.
[We won’t mention the fact that the aforesaid buttinsky is enlarging by the second from being parked on my computer chair for hours at a time, or that my cervical spine is beginning to melt into my shoulder blades. I’m also pretty sure that my mouse hand is about two inches longer than the non-mouse one. No, we won’t go there.]
But Jeez Louise, I really did want to write an entire book.
You know what? There’s also this niggling memory that’s been buzzing around in my head. It’s something my professor in Visual Arts 101 used to tell us students. What was it she said?
Oh yes, I’ve got it now:
She taught us budding artistes that as we struggle with whatever work of art we are attempting to produce, there will inevitably come a point when we must prevent our dripping paintbrush from slapping so much as one additional mark onto that canvas.
At that point, we absolutely must tear ourselves away from the muse, look elsewhere until our distance vision has once again kicked in, take a deep breath, and say to ourselves, “Good enough.”
You see, it’s apparently not just possible, but actually incredibly easy, to completely ruin a perfectly respectable piece of art by not knowing when to stop working it.
Yes, Virginia, there really is such a concept as “good enough,” and it’s designed to prevent endless overworking in the world of graphic art.
Personally, I think “good enough” was terrific advice, especially for a raging perfectionist like me.
Not only that, but these words of wisdom are equally applicable to an endless variety of other endeavours in life, artistic or otherwise.
You know what? I think I’ll get back to my book after all.
LOL. I’m exactly the other way. I’ve written the darn thing and you get my drift. Why should I rewrite it? On this theory I’ve written three books. None of them readable and all in various stages of rewriting because I hate it. So now it’s winter, and in winter I write, if at all, poetry.
Three books! And as for me, if I don’t do something soon, I’m probably doomed to spend the rest of my life editing the exactly ONE-HALF OF A BOOK that I DO have! I’ve edited other people’s work for so long that it’s actually difficult for me to move on in my own writing because I’m stuck in edit mode, so although I’m fine with rewriting (Madame Nitpick here), I’m getting a little long in the tooth to spend my life reworking, reworking, reworking. Oddly enough, we’ve reached the same conclusion (“good enough”) from entirely different ends of the stick. That’s a hoot. Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your (THREE, COUNT ‘EM!) books. 🙂
You’re such an admirable and amazing woman. I’m certain there isn’t anything you can’t do. Love you, immensely.
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I don’t think in terms of writing books. I think in terms of telling a story. I don’t think finishing is important, but writing well is. At a certain point, those two things meet. 🙂 Just do what you want and be happy with it, that’s my philosophy.
Thanks for the notes, Martha. That student was a sweet guy, wasn’t he!
After reading MANY books about writing in general and memoir writing in particular, I’ve come to somewhat the same conclusion. I’ll tell my story as best I can, edit it as well as I can, then send it on for an editor’s viewpoint. But in the end, I’m probably going to serialize it on a blogsite, since it’s intended to be read mainly by my children and friends. (It’s my “crone oeuvre,” don’tcha know. :-)) I don’t have the following you apparently need in order to be considered by a publisher, and I’m not very pleased with 90 percent of the self-published stuff I’ve read on Amazon (because it’s terribly-written, virtually grammarless crap, mostly, with a few shining exceptions), and I don’t know of any other venue to explore. None of this bothers me particularly, because I’m writing it for me anyway. But I have to admit I do dream of getting published, even though it’s pretty much a pipe dream. Next lifetime, perhaps, eh?
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Self-publishing has its pitfalls, I certainly know that, but I’m seeing now a significant movement to raise the standards and bring it out of the pit. Check out http://www.bragmedallion.com/
That’s just one of the organizations emerging to up the standards of self-published work and attract readers.
As for publishing? I don’t know about Canada. In the US there are a couple of tiers — and for top tier publishers a writer needs an agent. I think publishing depends more on the market for a particular kind of book than on how well something is written. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is one of the worst written books I’ve ever encountered and it was a NY Times bestseller — because of the subject and because the writer had a big fan base of facile minded females with low standards (IMO). And, the author largely plagiarized the diary of the subject of the novel. It’s reprehensible but successful.
Here’s a blog post on Lulu that’s very interesting and makes good points. http://www.lulu.com/blog/2012/09/indiebrag/#more-7795
Thank you, Martha! I remember Brag Medallion because you were awarded one of their medallions for “Martin of Gfenn,” if I remember correctly.
I’m glad to hear that they’re attempting to raise self-publishing standards, because I’m pretty discouraged at the dismal quality of low-priced Kindle books on Amazon. I’ve gotten less naive after being burned a few times, and now I check only the one-star reviews no matter how many five-star reviews a book displays. (I think some of those authors must pay for the five-star reviews they get, or else their readers have no more idea what constitutes good writing than the authors do!) If those low-rating reviews even mention editing issues, I don’t bother with the book. I’m just plain tired of spending most of my reading time correcting spelling, punctuation and grammar errors in my head as I try to read. Hello, has no one ever heard of HOMONYMS?
Oh dear, I’m doing it again. Low standards are one issue that I can get on my trusty little soapbox and bitch about at the drop of a hat. I’m going to give my fingers a rest and visit the links you so kindly provided. Thanks again! 🙂
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It’s OK. I understand completely. RETIRED teacher here, right? 😉
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