Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Good is the Enemy of the Great

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." - Colette (thanks to The Longstockings for the quote)

This is what I'm doing this week: dismantling the manuscript for my second book.

I'm fairly certain I will be doing this many times in my career: destroying something in order to make it better. So I'm taking notes on the process, and posting them here for Future Me to read. Because I know Future Me is going to write many, many things in need of extensive revision, and I know she will feel like the world is ending each time, but Future Me: it's okay. The world ends and begins again. So do writers.


1) First, take care of the instrument that will be doing the revision. Yup, that would be YOU, Future Me. Don't even think of talking to anyone until you do. Try this: Eat eggplant rollatini with lots of gooey cheese. Run to the salon and let the shampooer massage every bad thought out of your head. Sweat it out at the gym, or better yet, outside, including getting grass in your belly button and dirt down your back. If these things don't work, find something else. Be kind.

2) Restore your confidence. Talk to someone who's known you a long time. Let them read your manuscript, if possible. Know that they love you, and will give honest feedback. Write something completely new: a poem, an essay, a short story, a blog entry, a recipe. Remember how much fun it is to create something.

3) Agree with yourself to try the revision, but on the condition that it's only a trial. No biggie. You'll try it just to prove that your first way was the right way, the only way, the immutable, unerring, perfect way! Or not. Usually not.

4) Look upon your first draft as research. You have so much to draw from! Play with your words. Go crazy. What do you have to lose? They're words, only words...and they can all be found in the dictionary again, should you need them.

5) Read for inspiration. See what great, truly great, books are out there. Imagine what would have happened if those writers had stopped at good.

Best of luck, Future Me! And hey: those are some great books you've written. Really great.


  1. Sara--Love the title of your post. Katherine Paterson spoke at the NY SCBWI conference in Feb. about "risking mediocrity" and how much scarier that is than being an utter failure. I agree! We all know we're capable of *good* writing. But we want so much more...

    Good luck with your revision!

  2. Yes! I heard her speak, and she was wonderful.

    I borrowed the title of this post from somewhere; it's something I jotted in my journal a long time ago, and I really should go back and track the source.

  3. I bet an editor would LOVE to read this lovely manifesto of sorts.

  4. Och, Sara -- been there, done that -- and better yet, came out the other side.

    Future You doesn't seem to need the shout-out, but I'm just telling Present You: You're awesome, and see you on the other side.

  5. Thanks, TadMack and jules. Present Me appreciates the support! And likes the opportunity to procrastinate by reading your comments. :)

  6. Thanks for this great post, Sara. Just what I needed to hear.

  7. You have such a wonderful way of writing about your experiences as an author. I'm going to have to start a file of these inspirational posts for further, well, inspiration.

  8. Great words of advice. Thanks. I needed to read this.

  9. Words of wisdom to live by! Thanks for sharing this! I will remember to stop working so hard and smell the roses, if only to remember the aroma and write about it!

    I agree!


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