Soul Searching at the Start of a New Year

11 Jan

by Lynn Heitkamp

I am my own worst critic.

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

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10 Responses to “Soul Searching at the Start of a New Year”

  1. Sarah J. Maas January 11, 2010 at 12:03 AM #

    Really beautiful article, Lynn! I’m definitely bookmarking this, for when I’m having one of Those Days, when I feel like everything I write (and will write for the rest of my life) sucks. 🙂 Without going much into it, I really needed to read something like this today, so THANK YOU! 🙂 Fantastic job!!!

  2. Lynn Heitkamp January 11, 2010 at 11:50 AM #

    Thanks, Sarah!

  3. Savannah J. Foley January 11, 2010 at 11:52 AM #

    Wow, what an excellent article! It’s so true what you said: sometimes you write yourself in circles. And you know what? Your agent will have even more changes to make, and so will your editor, so really it just needs to be good enough to get you in the door, and then there are other people who will have something to say about it. I wish you the best of luck in trying to stop editing, lol, and getting started on the query process!

    • Lynn Heitkamp January 11, 2010 at 1:12 PM #

      That is so true. Thanks, Savannah

  4. Crissy Rose January 12, 2010 at 10:23 AM #

    Wow, although I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I’m glad I’m not the only one! Sometimes I wonder if writers who write great works KNOW they’re great, or if they think they suck, too. I know mine aren’t exactly up to par seeing as I’m out of practice, but this blog is inspiring me to change that.

    Good luck on your resolution and your books, I’d love to read them someday!

    • Lynn Heitkamp January 12, 2010 at 7:19 PM #

      Thank you, I’d love to have you read them!

      Writing is such a solitary thing, it’s good to know we’re not alone. Others have been there before us.

  5. Rowenna January 12, 2010 at 7:36 PM #

    No such thing as perfect…thanks for reminding us of that. Sometimes it seems like the expectation is perfection, and it’s hard to admit but–no one can be perfect. We’re only human.

    This is corny but–I can be a terrible perfectionist, and when I was young, my dad told me of a belief among some Native American tribes that you put a bit of your soul into everything you make or do. When you die, your soul escapes those things through the imperfections. A little morbid for a dad to tell his daughter, but I like the sentiment!

    • heitk1le January 12, 2010 at 7:41 PM #

      That’s a neat way of looking at it. Thanks for sharing!

  6. junebugger January 13, 2010 at 1:29 AM #

    This was such an inspiring post. Thank you! I always find mistakes to fix. And I was even planning to hold back my work for another four years until I could get it “perfect”, But my parents finally convinced me that nothing can ever reach perfection. So that’s why I’m where I am now!

    • heitk1le January 13, 2010 at 11:18 AM #

      It’s really reassuring to know that I’m not the only one. I wish someone had convinced me that it was time to put down the editing pen a long time ago! But I suppose it wasn’t that people didn’t try — I just tend to be a mite stubborn sometimes.

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