The Fallacy of the “Never Finished” Writer

There is this “fact” about writers that has been bandied about since, I’m sure, the first cavemen began scrawling on walls:

We are never “finished” with a book, never satisfied, never happy, can always find things to tweak.

Somewhere or other I heard somebody say this the other day, and it got me thinking that…that’s really not true for me.

Certainly it used to be.  Back in my pantsing days I had one book that I wrote literally 9 partial drafts of before finishing.  I kept thinking of ways to change and tweak it.  And it’s still buried in a drawer somewhere.  But honestly, I think all of that was more a product of my being a pantser at that time and not having a clear grasp of story structure than because of any innate dissatisfaction with everything I write.

But these days…not so much.   The work I’ve finished in the last three years, I’ve been really happy with.  Each thing I’ve written has been the best I could make it at that time (I would never publish it if it wasn’t), and even looking back on it, I don’t see anything (other than the occasional typo) that I would change.  Even in Forsaken By Shadow, the thing I got blasted for in multiple reviews (how they got into the military base being very contrived–it totally was), I look back and can’t see any other way to make it work.

I’m not sure if this is a product of the fact that these stories have been published and put out there for public consumption.  I have this mental space where I don’t spend time on stories once they’re done and out there.  Because as I’ve made abundantly clear, I never have a shortage of new ideas, and I am always excited to move on to the next thing.  I don’t mull over past projects unless they somehow have bearing on a current one (like rereading my Mirus stuff in preparation for writing another Mirus something to check my world details–REALLY must get on that whole Series Bible thing).

Am I weird?  Or is this whole “writers are eternal perfectionists that can’t let things go” thing just a fallacy?

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9 comments

  1. I think it depends on who you are. Like any stereotype, it’s going to apply to some people, but to use it as a generalisation is going to make it untrue. I think as writers we can be wholly satisfied with what we’ve done; I think perhaps more important to note is the process of deciding when something is done. A lot of writers revisit and revise dozens of times to perfect their books, others not so much.

    I would be one of those writers who was never satisfied with their books, but I force myself to look at each project objectively and say ‘that’s as good as this can get’. Obviously Beta readers and reviews help, but it basically comes down to your own ability to close a project and then leave it alone.

  2. I’m pretty sure I know where you heard that recently. 😉

    I think the constant tweaking is mostly because people are afraid to let it go. Just my opinion. Yeah, I know, I still owe you a post. LOL

  3. I think it’s mostly a confidence thing, which tends to (but does not always) improve with time. Raw novices are often overconfident, believing work is good which isn’t, because they haven’t yet learned to discern good from bad. Writers with some experience tend to then see the bad in their work; reinforced by rejection letters, they are often overly self critical. More experienced writers tend to, over time, gain more perspective, gaining a better understanding of the quality level readers expect from their books, and what needs to be done to achieve that level.

    Not every experienced pro gains that sort of confidence, I suspect. And I think indies have an edge in getting over their self criticism more rapidly, too, because indies are unhampered by the professional rejections that tend to beat down the self esteem of trad pub writers.

  4. I think it’s personality-dependent. I’m inclined towards perfectionism, but I’m too pragmatic to truly give in to the urge. I’ve seen too many things edited to death. Over-editing can even negatively impact things like grades on research papers.

    And then there was the hard-copy edit I did of one book, where when I started putting edits in the computer, I realized that most of my markups were optional—and those markups actually would’ve changed my narrator’s voice into a different character, one who featured in an entirely different story world. (…Oops?)

    So while I have this urge to fix a potentially awkward sentence or something like that when I look over a book, I know that it’s best to leave be and move on.

    Some folks deem me unprofessional because I don’t sweat over perfection or typos. I do my part to make the story error-free, but I’m only human. My health’s poor enough. I don’t need to stress and worry and fret over trying to make my story something that it’s impossibile to be: perfect.

  5. Hmmm… boy could I relate to this post. I would love to go back and revise, there is a part of me that will always itch to do that. But with all the other projects coming up, I don’t have the time. Once I’ve put in my edits and sent the book off to the proofreader, I consider it done. I don’t look back, only forward.
    I think this sums up my thoughts on that rather well:
    http://kriswrites.com/2012/06/27/the-business-rusch-perfection/

  6. I hope if I ever did have something published, I’d never read it again. I’d be too afraid of finding some sort of mistake or something I’d want to do differently.
    Love the idea of a series bible!

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