by Lynn Heitkamp
I’m forever seeing the flaws in my work and wondering how it will ever measure up to really great writing. Have you ever had the experience where you’re reading a passage that really speaks to you, but while part of your soul is singing, the other part gets depressed because you’re convinced nothing in your latest manuscript even comes close to being that good? Well, I certainly have.
It seems like every time I think I’m almost done with Thorn of the Kingdom, and print off a “final” copy to review for grammar errors and other minor edits before sending it off to an agent, I find something else that “needs” to be changed. I never realized how ridiculous I was being about this until I noticed I was changing things back on my next go-round of edits. I’d be flipping two words in a sentence one time, then changing them back to the original order on the next. In essence, I was writing myself in circles.
I guess I’d taken all that advice about not sending off queries on half-baked material to heart. I wanted to Revise! Rewrite! I wanted my manuscript to be perfect before I sent it off.
However, I’m beginning to realize that another thing they always say about writing is also true. There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Charles Dickens didn’t have one. James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t either. Jane Austen might have come close, but even she left us with novels that could have been improved.
As human beings, we’re all miserably flawed, and so is our writing. And so much of what is considered “great” is chalked up to personal taste and opinion. Trying to come up with a manuscript that is without fault seems not only impossible, but a tad egotistical.
So, I’m setting a new goal for myself in 2010. I am going to try and silence my inner critic when her voice becomes self-defeating. I’m going to query my manuscript because I know it has merit, even though I also know it also has flaws.
And, if all else fails, the next time this whole publishing dream seems hopeless, I’m going to pull out my trusted copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and realize I’m not the only writer who’s ever gone through this insecurity. She calls perfectionism “a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.” That’s a lesson I mean to take to heart this year.
Lynn Heitkamp is the author of Thorn of the Kingdom, and several other novels on FictionPress. She lives in Michigan, where she is a librarian and former journalist.
Currently Reading: Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor