Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Vs. Done

Okay, I hope you've got your swimsuits on, cuz we're going in deep today. I've blogged about self-doubt before. I call it the pool of writing funk. I've been in and out of this scummy pool for a couple of years now. Sometimes while riding the roller coaster. So yeah.

I came to a conclusion a few weeks ago. See if you can follow along.

So we're writers, right? And we write. And we know it's not "good" when we write something. So we rewrite. And it's sort of better. And then we rewrite again. And send it out to betas and then gammas.

And we work work work, and it gets better every time.

But is it ever done?

No.

But does that mean it's sucktacular?

No.

So I came to the conclusion that just because something (my latest WiP) isn't DONE doesn't mean it isn't GOOD.

Does that make sense to anyone but me?

I guess what I'm trying to say is I've decided to stop beating myself up and wallowing in the pool of writing funk because something isn't DONE. Because it's never going to be done. Until it's done. And then it will be awesomesauce.

Right now, it's only...not sucktacular.

What do you think? Can something that's not done be good? Are you wallowing in self-doubt right now? Get out of the pool! Your skin's going to wrinkle.

95 comments:

sarahjayne smythe said...

So I came to the conclusion that just because something (my latest WiP) isn't DONE doesn't mean it isn't GOOD.

Thank you for saying this. It makes total sense because it is so very true. And we so often can’t see it. So again, thank you for your public service announcement. And happy Friday to you. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

It makes perfect sense. I just finished my manuscript after over 6 years and realize I might need to go over it AGAIN to cut more words. But I'm trying not to worry about it for a bit and realize like you say that it's still good. So is yours. And even if we're so lucky to get our books published, it doesn't mean that we wouldn't find ways we might think it should be revised years later when we look at it again. Part of it is just growing as a writer.

Georgiana said...

LOL, I'm already a prune :O It's so hard to know when, exactly, to stop rewriting one of my WIPs. I read something many moons ago--by Jerry Jenkins, I think--that said you are done when you aren't making your manuscript BETTER, you are only making it DIFFERENT. I suppose that's when it goes from being sucktacular to awesomesauce :D

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Absolutely. I can't tell you how many author interviews I've read where the author believes even to the point their book is headed to print they could have changed one more thing.

And many of those interviewed had written not just good book, but excellent ones.
~ Wendy

Eric said...

Great post, Elana. This is the kick in the butt we all need from time to time. I'm still trying to get the image of my skin wrinkling out of my head though...

Good reason to get writing.

Jonathon Arntson said...

1. I am avoiding the pool altogether, and don't even bring up the hot tub, or math.
2. I wallow in self-doubt all day, but it makes the, "OMG, this is actually good!" epiphanies that much sweeter.
3. To answer your question: I think good and done are totally separate things, not comparable, in fact. Apples and licorice. Some of my favorite books took the author three years to write, some took a year. One took ten...the timeline has nothing to do with the quality. Good is subjective, it's not until your crit partners spit their gum into page 213 and wad it up that you realize you may have done something wrong, or they're calling you at 1 AM raving about whatever, that you know it's 'good'. Also, good is the easiest word to throw out there. Never tell someone their work is good, in fact, I never tell myself my work is good. I use specifics and thought-provoking words. Good can always be something better. Good writing can always become something so much more.

If you haven't, watch Maureen Johnson's vlog on VlogBrothers2.0, the video is called DARE TO SUCK and will help some validate what you've taught here.

Scott said...

Sorry, a bit too cold here for swimsuits.

Great post. Yes, things can be good, but not done. Chocolate chip cookie dough is good . . . but it's not done.

A rough draft can be good . . . just not done.

So, if it's not sucktacular (love the word, btw), and it's not done, it still can be good.

S

Jess of All Trades said...

I agree with you. You can always tweak something, or make it better and better... but when I was taking watercolor, I learned the term 'over painting.' Which means there's a point when you start to do too much. The colors get muddy. The light can't come through the paper. I think that can happen with writing, too. I think there's a point when we can't, by ourselves, make something any better.

There's a quote by a famous abstract artist who, when asked how he knew what a painting was 'done' replied, "My wife tells me."

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Totally understand the concept of being "not done". I've just finished the latest set of revisions for a mid-grade I wrote in 2001. It's been through dozens of major overhauls (changing POV, cutting 50+ pages twice, changing the time frame from three years to one).

It's probably not done, but it's getting closer.

Jess of All Trades said...

Er... *when* a painting was done. Not what.

Yeah. Time to get ready for work :D

Dawn Embers said...

Great topic. I have to agree that just because a story/novel/etc isn't done, that doesn't mean it can't be good. Even the ones that need rewrites can still be good. I've written during National Novel Writing Month a few years now and that is am month dedicated to getting done. Yet everyone talks about how bad some of it can be. Having to write that fast and going for word count can lead to that. However, it can also lead to something good. I often find myself surprised at how good each chapter comes out on different novels and look forward to making them even better.

As for the nothing is ever done: I follow a statement made by my painting professor. "A painting is never finished, it is abandoned." This works for writing too because there is always going to be a way it can be changed and made better. But at some point it must be left alone.

Marybeth Poppins said...

Yeah so my fingers look a little pruny....what ya gonna do!

I totally get what you are saying :) I think my books is awesomesauce. I just need to find an agent who agrees.

Sigh...

Janet Johnson said...

Absolutely. I often wonder if anything I write will ever be done . . . I'm just too nitpicky about too many things. But I guess it's okay if we're still nitpicking . . . it's when our readers are still nitpicking we have a problem. :)

Things can definitely be good and not done.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Makes sense to me! As writers, we want it to be excellent, even perfect. Since perfection is impossible, we're never really done...

Sandra said...

I agree with the people who say you'll always find things you want to change, but at some point you start to overwrite your book. Then you have to force yourself to let it go and move on to another project--if your characters let you, that is.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Also, got your fabuloso newsletter! Thanks for the great info and encouraging words.

Chantal said...

Um, yeah. So, that's like exactly how I feel--times ten. I LOVE my new WIP, but it's totally sucktacular that it's not done...but it's really awesome and kinda cool...Makes it hard to get up on the monring, I'm so confused...LOL!

KLo said...

I started writing my first novel when I was twelve or so. It was pretty crappy, which I realized when I was fifteen, so I took elements of it and started writing my REAL first novel at that time. I didn't finish it until I was thirty, and truth be told, I still change it a fair amount every time I read it. Honestly, it will NEVER be "finished." I started letting people read it when I was thirty ... I figured that meant something ;)

Anyway, my students have the opposite problem. They slam out a piece and call it done. They have no concept of revision, no self-editing skills. I don't want to use the word "apathy", but I guess I kind of have to ... most of them just don't care enough to want to make a mediocre piece great. It's very sad, really.

Your post got me thinking about how we writers are an odd breed, perfectionists and chance-takers all at once. I'm very proud to be in the ranks, though : )

Cheree said...

It's so true. When is anything every good enough? But, there has to be a time where you think to yourself "This is good enough to move on" or you'll be stuck redoing the same piece over and over without making any progress.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Some days I wonder if my novel will ever be done. 'Cause when I think it is, it turns out there's something else that needs to be fixed. Fortunately I've had writers tell me not to give up on it, so that keeps me going.

Christina Lee said...

yeah my skin is pretty wrinkly by now. I think it's harder if you don't have that acknowledgemnt though, from outside sources (writer's group, an agent). Then you just suffer in silence :)

Danyelle said...

Elana, you are awesome! I usually don't get into the pool until I've sent it out to my betas, and then I wallow. >.< Great reminder to stop aspiring to become a raisin. :D

Melissa Sarno said...

I hear ya! In the same way done isn't necessarily good (as in the case of some of my team projects at work with deadlines that are impossible, so you get it out the door but at poor quality). It's never really done, but there's so much opportunity for good!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I understand you. :) I've almost finished my first draft of my current WIP. It's nowhere near done. Some of it might be good but the rest might be considered craptastic. One step at a time. It'll get there.

WritingNut said...

Hi Elana! I'm new to your blog, and first things first - not only is this a great site, but this particular post was perfect for the moment.

I've been wallowing in self doubt for months now, writing and re-writing and wondering if I will ever finish.

It's such a relief to know that so many others feel the same :). You're right--we just have to keep plugging away. We'll get there eventually. And as many people have pointed out - we are growing as writers through this process.

Extremely inspiring!

WritingNut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alli said...

Ooooh, this post was a ripper today! Loved it! I'm a Virgo - perfectionist by nature. I can get to the "ooh, it's good" stage but it will never, ever be "done". Even when the book's in print. Because there will always be something I see that could be better. BUT, I am learning to live with "not suckage" and strive for "as done as it will ever be". The pool gets cold when you've been in there too long...

Sara McClung ♥ said...

Awesome post Elana :-)

I definitely think something can be good before it's done. There's good and then there's ready. Just because it's not ready, doesn't mean it's not good. (wow, did all of my negatives just cancel each other out and totally change the meaning of my sentence?)

The frustrating part is when you think it's good, but you KNOW it's not ready--so you think of it in terms of not being good enough. And that's just the start of a downward spiral.

Heather Kelly said...

I like this. I have this big question mark in my head about if my current wip will ever been done. I should strive for greatness, and not worry about doneness. ;-)

Kay said...

ummm...yeah. swimming is cool. I don't think there is one writer who can not fully appreciate and understand what it is that you just said.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

It's about time you figured that out. I think that is a wonderful (and healthy) attitude, Elana. You will most likely feel better, which could result in even better writing. Voila! :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Super spectacular advice! My eye opener came the other day when I finished my final draft of Hatshepsut and then started the first reread/edit of the start of Book #2. I recall being appalled when I did the first edit of Hatshepsut. I thought I totally sucked.

The polish comes in increments. And only when it's on the shelves will it be DONE.

lbdiamond said...

As usual, Elana, you're one Kewl Kat. I keep writing, and I do think it's *good,* but I wonder if it's *good enough*--that qualifies it for "not done," LOL!

Man, oh, man, the past ten months have taught me A LOT. And my writing is SOOOOOOO much better because of it.

I thank you and my betas for that! :) So, I'm pretty convinced that I'll get *there* some day. Even if I have to wait longer than the average bear.

Creative A said...

"So I came to the conclusion that just because something (my latest WiP) isn't DONE doesn't mean it isn't GOOD."

When you said this, I had an "OH" moment. This is similar to a realization I had awhile ago when editing a short story before submissions. I couldn't understand why if it was good, I was still editing it. Then I realized that I could go on editing forever, but there are certain things you can't fix, things you can't perfect. So I stopped editing and submitted. I've really forgotten about all that, though.

Thanks for reminding me!

-Mandy

Abby Stevens said...

I completely agree. Especially since at any given point, some parts of a manuscript may be far more 'done' than others. I can feel myself getting to the point that in some sections, I am just tweaking words here and there, and it's not really making it any better. In other areas, there is still TONS to do. But I'm getting the feeling that, overall, it IS good.

Nisa said...

Absolutely, it can be good and not done! Yeah, I'm wallowing. A bit.

Jody Hedlund said...

It's definitely easy to wallow in self-doubt. I've come to the conculsion that we just are too subjective to be able to critique our own work. Sure we can on some level, but I think we need the feedback from others to really give us a truer picture of our skill level.

Valerie Ipson said...

It's so hard...my husband keeps telling me "be done, quit playing around with it and publish it." (Like that's a piece of cake or something.) Just because I come to the end doesn't mean the book is done--then it's revision time. I just hope I'll recognize when it's good and done...enough.

Kristi said...

That's why I don't ever say my ms is done, just 'done for now.' I'm almost 'done for now' again! :)

Amy Tate said...

Yep! I totally relate. My son asked me what I was working on. I told him I'm still working on my novel and he said, "I thought you finished that thing two years ago."

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

That is when I say here read this to anyone to see what they think. Oh boy getting more wrinkled by the minute. I'm heading for the sauna!

coffeelvnmom said...

What you said totally made sense! We just keep chopping away, not matter how good we thought it was, because there's always something else to fix!

And I love "awesomesauce". That's going to be my new word. (We'll see what the kids think about it!)

Rebecca Knight said...

You're so right :). Just when we think we're "done," it's time for agent revisions, then editor revisions, then more revisions after that, and right as we're reading the bound copy from Barnes N' Noble we'll think "argh, that could be different."

We have to learn to let go and trust the goodness.

Dominique said...

How true.
DaVinci carried the Mona Lisa around with him for years. He never considered her finished. Now, we regard it as one of the finest pieces of art that period can show. Done and Good are certainly not the same thing.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Heck yeah!

Sometimes as you're writing you can just tell that you're on to something, that all those lonely nights in front of the keyboard are going to pay off with this awesome story. And really, if you're putting in the time, you can't help but get better. And if you're putting in the time, it will get done.

How's that for a rambling answer?

Erica said...

Great post! yes, I have moments of this feeling in some of the paragraphs in the WIP, so I do get what you mean. It's really a great way of looking at things ;o)

Tess said...

I agree w/ all these great comments. Some days I'll think, "brilliant" then I'll look at the very same line the next week and think "complete crap". I like the first feeling a lot better :D

Kayeleen said...

I totally agree! Writing is such a personal and isolated thing. It's really easy to focus on the flaws, just like we focus on our own personal flaws. (Like I hate my hair.) It's hard to remember that things can be good just because they are good. Thanks for your insights! Anybody seen my towel?

Sarah Simas said...

I've been floating around in the self-doubt pool so long I'm being mistaken for a bouy! I really enjoyed your post and walked away with a great deal of inspiration. Thanks! You can be sure I will remember your words of wisdom. :)

Myrna Foster said...

Go, Elana!

I can only think of one poem I've written that I never want to fix when I read it. Don't get me started on my prose. Or maybe you should, since I'm supposed to be revising a novel.

Tamika: said...

Too true! Wrinkly skin is a skin to leave the water! Even my three year old knows that! So why haven't I vacated this toxic water?

Thanks Elana!

Bish Denham said...

When it comes to writing, I'm not sure that anything is every truly done because a word, a phrase, a sentence can ALWAYS be changed up until the moment it gets printed. But even then when we see our work in print we might (I have) say to ourselves, "Oh I should have said it this way or that way. I should have used this or that word...." It never ends. It's never done. What it is, is that I work toward the point where I say I'm satisfied/content/happy with what I have.

lotusgirl said...

Yep. We're reaching for perfection in all our imperfections. We still have to keep reaching. It's in the reaching that we approach perfection.

Krispy said...

You definitely make sense. If all those papers I wrote for class weren't at least kinda good before they became DONE, I don't know how I graduated.

It's also like diamonds. It's not shiny and beautiful until after it's cut (and done), but it's still a diamond. It has inherent worth.

Plus, when is writing ever really done? ;) If writing had to be done to be good, we'd be dooming ourselves to eternal angst.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm all about getting out of that pool--need to work on my tan. :0)

Great analogy! Thanks for the reminder that I'm not a total failure--which is what I tell myself I am. :0)

Liza said...

At some point you just have to let it go and be out there. You could ALWAYS tweak...forever! The few bits I had published I always wanted to change after the fact...but I had to settle myself in to the idea that although they weren't perfect in my eyes, they were good in other folks' eyes, and that's what I was aiming for.

Karen said...

You hear about so many published authors who won't read their finished books because all they see are the flaws. So is it EVER done?

But I agree, too much time in the wallowing pool leaves you a self-deprecating prune.

Casey McCormick said...

I'm pretty much dead in the water. Dying, I tell you! I don't know how people get through this revision thing. I have have so many reasons to be motivated and encouraged and I'm like... UGH. I can't do it.

Karen Lange said...

I guess it's a matter of looking at the potential before the finished product is put to bed. I say we all have great potential. I for one am getting out of the water. Thanks for the encouraging words!
Happy weekend,
Karen

Caledonia Lass said...

That makes sense to me. However, I think that something first written can be good. If it wasn't even remotely likable, would we keep writing it or revising it? Doubtful.
I think the only time I take a dip in the wallowing pool is when I have to write the query. I tend to sink down into the water, up to my eyes, trying to hide. I think that is why I always put it off and focus on the writing that I know I can do.
I know, I have to do it sometime. Sink or swim, right? XD

jbchicoine said...

You really nailed my sentiments. I’m a great big shriveled prune, but I know there’s good in my work. Just got to keep my head above water. Thanks for the life raft!

Shelley Sly said...

Thank you for posting this. I struggle with the good/done issue -- I always equated the two, and since I'm never done, I figured I wasn't good either. Encouraging post! Getting out of the pool...

L.T. Elliot said...

It makes sense to me. Sort of like how the laundry will never really be done but at least I won't be swimming in it, right?

Jemi Fraser said...

Sucktacular! Love it :) And will be stealing it at some point in the future I'm sure!

Alissa said...

I agree completely, but then I've never been a perfectionist.

Theresa Milstein said...

I once read that there was a famous artist who would sneak into the museum to keep working on his painting. When he was discovered, he was banned from doing it again, told that if it was good enough to be displayed in a museum, it was done.

But I can't remember the artist.

All writers are like that. I try to remember this story each time I'm down about my manuscript.

SB said...

Though I have never written a novel, I had this very feeling while trying to write a tribute to my friend. I kept going back to my blog and fixing and fussing and fretting because it just didn't take the form I had wanted it to. It still bothers me. I cannot let it go. Does anyone ever really let go of what they write and just let it be as is???

Mary Aalgaard said...

Our art can be tweaked until eternity. Eventually, we have to submit it. Either that, or the deadline comes!
The way I see it, the novel (or any story) is always waiting to be written. Just like the laundry that needs washing.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The imagery of pruneness in pool will stick forever. I'm getting out, already. :D

Shannon O'Donnell said...

So, um, now do we call you the query AND comment queen?! You so totally rock. Which leads me to why I'm here - I have an award for you on my Saturday post. :-)

Sharon Mayhew said...

I wonder if my work is ever done...I guess when I scratch my head because I can't figure out what else to do with it it's done.??

Cheree said...

You've always got something great at your blog, Elana. I've left an award for you at my blog.

http://justifiedlunacy.blogspot.com/2010/02/blog-awards.html

Christina Farley said...

True! But it's kind of rewarding comging back to a piece and making it better and better. I like to keep my first drafts and then compare. WOW!

Lisa Nowak said...

It makes perfect sense to me that it can be good but not done. We tend to go one of two ways on our writing, either we see it as way better than it is (the beginners) or as way worse. When you've read something over and over you get so familiar with it that you can't see it clearly any more. It's like if you say a word over and over again until it doesn't sound like a real word anymore.

WindyA said...

Great thoughts. And I think most of us are never truly done, because you always want it to be perfect and perfect is pretty tough to reach since, you know, since I swear it's a mirage. All you can do is your absolute determined best and then, make it better!

Tiffany Neal said...

Loved this post and your non-sucktacular vocab!! :)

Girl with One Eye said...

Is awesomesauce like applesauce but tastes a whole lot better? I usually like to roll around in that sludgy pool of self doubt until it funks me up pretty good. Then, like now, i get on these random highs that I think I'm like, the bomb, but it won't last long so I enjoy it when I can. Because next week, when I'm coming off my high, I will look at the same work and go "what is this crap?"

Kimberly said...

You're hilarious - yet also quite guru-ish. Keep this up and your face will be on t-shirts some day. And maybe coffee mugs too.

Lydia Kang said...

Yes, I know what you mean. Althought I wallow in the sucktacular phase more than you do, probably!

Medeia Sharif said...

Hi, Elana. I have a blog award waiting for you on my blog. http://sharifwrites.blogspot.com/2010/02/only-alien-on-planet-kristen-randle.html

Melony said...

This was an awesome post. I've been swimming in that pool. Luckily I'm currently sitting on the side dipping a toe or two but no swimming so that's good. Something can be good if it isn't done..it's all about point of view and attitude. Sometimes we're up and sometimes we're down.

BTW- another great word (although sucktacular is awesome) is craptastic...it's in my dictionary, I swear. :D

Kerrie said...

It totally makes sense. Something can absolutely be good while it is still a work in progress. Sometimes we just have to swim across the pool of writing funk, get out and finish work we started.

quixotic said...

"So I came to the conclusion that just because something (my latest WiP) isn't DONE doesn't mean it isn't GOOD."

Makes perfect sense. I think my book, Immortalis went through 15 or so revisions before it was good. That was a whole year and a half after it was done.

Melissa Banigan said...

Yep, I understand this acutely. After working for 6-7 years on the same novel (still working)- the writing of which encompasses countless drafts, one complete rewrite, more edits than should be allowed for one piece of writing, and a lot of hair-pulling, I understand something being good- at moments even great- but still. NOT. DONE. Perseverance is essential.

Laura said...

Elana, hope you have time to come and pick up your Award - here. :)

Laura said...

Elana, hope you have time to come and pick up your Award - here. :)

Jan Markley said...

I think its a process of writing toward the doneness!

Terri Tiffany said...

Yaeah, the one I'm writing now is my best! LOL But NOT done!

Samantha Clark said...

My skin has been wrinkly for about a week, but I'm starting to come out of it.

I absolutely agree that a book can be good before it's done. Writing, I think, is like an art, and can easily fit in with that old saying that art is never finished, only abandoned. The trick is to abandon it when it's the best you can make it.

Then your agent can help make it better, and your editor can help you make it best. At least, that's the hope. :)

Lorel Clayton said...

I totally understand what you mean. My second manuscript was not sucktacular, but it can use a bit more work, and it's that "not done" feeling that weighs me down like a Mob victim in the East River.

Susan Fields said...

I think it's done when I can't look at it anymore. I have an old manuscript right now that's not horrible, and I know I should take it out and polish it up, but I just can't get back into it. Maybe it's not done, I'm just done with it.

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks for all the links to awards, people! You guys rock.

And I'm glad to hear that I've got all this company in the pool of writing funk. Who knew? It's like WALL-E where those people didn't even realize there WAS a pool, you know?

I definitely agree that sometimes we over-write because it is entirely possible to go over something so much that you want to die. It is important to have crit buddies and other to tell you to back away slowly.

Jewel/Pink Ink said...

Wallow...wallow...

I've been there recently, with a revision that my beta readers complained lacked some things from the first version, and I am ready to tear my hair out.

So I am thinking of applying the antidote: another novel. LOL

Diana Paz said...

I almost didn't comment, because there are already so many insightful splashes of life, but I can't help it. Totally agree, I know exactly what you're describing. I've never gotten to DONE, though. I've only thought I had, until I realized I hadn't.

Murr Brewster said...

My love dithered about the color of the house for years and then finally slapped something on and declared: "Done is good." I think there's something to that, too, if we don't want to get overcome by clouds of navel lint.

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