Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Going for Greatness

Right before lunch seems to be a very good exercise time -- lunchtime and my post-lunch low phase when I read are good for recovery, and then I have energy for the rest of the day and sleep well at night. Except today I'll exercise at night because I have dance class. The OnDemand workout video I did yesterday may have killed me. I'm not really sore, but I definitely feel like I exercised, and it was proof that I'm really not very fit because I got really winded during the short cardio intervals. So more cardio for me. That might also help me survive the altitude in Denver during WorldCon.

I had one of those days when I felt like I didn't accomplish anything, even though I worked pretty steadily through the whole day. It was just lots of little tasks that didn't add up to anything major or visible that I could say was "done." I cut nearly 200 e-mails out of my in-box, still need to answer a lot, and started work on updating the web site, but that involved lots of little changes before I get to adding new pages.

My agent posted in her blog the other day about reading the book Good to Great and thinking about what that means for her agency. And that got me started thinking about what it means for me as a writer. Supposedly, the enemy of "great" is "good" because it's easy to be satisfied with good, and that keeps you from moving forward (I've put in a hold request on the book at the library). I guess I'm okay there because while I think I'm pretty good, in that I'm good enough to be published, I'm not really satisfied with that and know I'm not where I ultimately want to be -- and I'm not sure I'll ever get there because I'd like to be able to keep growing with each thing I write without ever reaching a stagnant plateau.

So then, being the analytical sort that I am, I started thinking about where my weak spots are, and I came to the conclusion that my biggest weakness is impatience. I get very excited about an idea and want to rush ahead, I write fast, and then I'm done with it and I just want to get it out there. That means some details may get handwaved over, and I'm so impatient that I think of it as "good enough." Some of that may come from my TV news background, where you certainly wanted your story to be as good as you could make it, but the priority was having it done by airtime. The most brilliantly composed story was useless if it wasn't done in time for the newscast. But books work the other way around. Time is certainly still important, but five minutes, five days or in some cases even five weeks (since deadlines are usually padded and publication schedules can change -- or if the book is being written on spec, the time doesn't matter much at all) don't make that much difference in the grand scheme of things. The priority is making it as good as possible. I think some of it also comes from the lingering insecurity from my long dry spell, when I was so desperate to sell something that I just started flinging things out there, and I may be going through some of that now since I don't currently have a contract.

One of my life lessons from The Book That Would Not Die (currently known as The Book In Search Of A Good Home) is that taking my time and doing that one more draft after doing some intense thinking about the story really could make a huge difference. That idea really caught my brain on fire, and I tore through that first draft. But I'm not sure that draft was publishable, even though I thought it was great at the time. The second draft wasn't even good enough, though I thought it was at the time. The third draft was good, but not what it needed to be. The final draft was a world of difference. I'm not sure I can truly cut out all those steps, but if I can learn to do more of the later draft thinking while in the process of writing the first draft, or perhaps even during the resting stage between the first and second drafts, I think that will help. At some point in the process, I need to force myself to slow down and analyze (which I should love doing), looking at the plot and character arcs on a high level, and then drilling into each scene to make it the best it can be in conveying all that information.

Then there are a few other things I want to work on fixing that come as part of that slow-down-and-analyze process. The New Project will be my guinea pig for this. I think it's a brilliant idea that could be a great book, as long as I don't settle for "good." If that takes me a bit longer, then that's fine in the grand scheme of things (besides, there's no point in having even a proposal ready before Labor Day. Giving myself two months to write a proposal should really force me to slow down and think).

1 comment:

Angie said...

I hope you'll do a signing or get together while you're in Denver, even for those of us who aren't attending WorldCon.