Remembering Good Enough

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My latest book Think Agile, Write Better is in its final read-through, and I’ll be formatting it for e-book next week.  This book has been through many edits to get it right, but my biggest challenge lately was to realize that “it’s good enough.”

I’d gotten into an “editing binge” when one pre-reader found some flaws with first third of the book.  I went through the suggestions carefully, rewrote them again, kept going, and kept looking for what else to fix.  I knew there had to be more to do.

That’s when the same friend read it and said basically “ok, seems solid” which surprised me because I’d expected yet more to fix.  I’d gotten into a habit of editing and looking for flaws, not realizing if the book was “good enough.”

It’s easy to get into the zone where you edit, edit, and edit some more.  Looking for flaws leads you to find more flaws, and sometimes even imagine them or second guess yourself.  You can get to the mental place where your book will never be “good enough” because you can’t recognize it and aren’t even looking for it.

There I was, with what was basically a finished book and I didn’t even know it.

I think there’s a skill to recognizing a book is done, a skill with two facets.

The first facet of the skill is to recognize that a book is good enough on a technical and content level.  This mix of organization, intuition, empathy, and technical knowledge is one that a good author just develops over time.  I don’t think it’s one you can train in, more one you get to by just doing it.

The second facet of the skill is psychological –to be in the mental space to recognize that a work is complete.  Based on the experience of myself and fellow authors, this “skill facet” of being in the right mental space to say “done” is less common than the ability to see the work is done.  Many of us have met authors with it what is clearly a finished work that authors clearly can’t stop editing.

I can relate.  I still rethink past writing, but there is a time just to realize it’s good enough and move on.  If one doesn’t move on, one will never publish what they’re working on, let alone publish anything else.

I’m glad I caught that moment of being in the mental space of not seeing “good enough,” as it not only kept me moving but it was also a good reminder to move on.

I might not know what’s next, but at least I know there will be a next.  All because I could say “good enough.”

Steven Savage

Questioning Your Way To Solidity

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Fiction is a canvas upon which you can do anything, and that’s why its limiting. When you can do anything, you have so many options you become paralyzed.

My friend Serdar talks about this, by comparing it to how many brands of Toothpaste we have:

“Choice paralysis is, as you can guess, a major issue in creative work. Because you have complete control over what you put into a story, that can manifest as being stranded between too many choices, and you end up in a Toothpaste Meltdown, goggling at the screen and drooling into your keys.”

He goes on to analyze how the choices you make are best shaped by what fits the story you want to write, and asking the right questions. This is something I see (to no one’s surprise) in my work using Agile methods.

Agile methods are obsessed with asking “what is valuable for the customer/end user/etc.” The basic idea is find what’s important, rank things in order of the importance, and start from the top. If you’re not sure, then you have to ask more questions about who your audience is, what they want, etc.

That one word, Value, helps say so much.

In my recent work on my novel, A School of Many Futures, I started a massive edit after getting editoral, prereader, and my own feedback. What helped me was asking what chapters, scenes, etc. did anything for the audience. The result shocked me.

  • Two chapters merged into one, moving the plot along.
  • Several scenes were thus combined, making them richer and snappier.
  • An entire sub-subplot and mini-character arc emerged from the above deeply enriching the overall story.
  • A cat who appears perhaps twice, became a useful way to exposit (hey, people talk to cats).

All because I asked what matters to the audience. What had value, to them.

This doesn’t mean I shirked on worldbuilding – this is me. It just meant that I found a way to tell the story, in the world, that worked better for the reader. I violated none of my obsessively detailed continuity, I merely found which option told the story best.

So next time you’re stuck with the “toothpaste conundrum” in your writing, ask what your audience wants and write it down. Then sort these ideas in order of what is important to them. Start from the top and go through your list.

Even if the audience is just you, you might be surprised at what you really want . . .

Steven Savage

A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: A Few Thoughts On The Final Run

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All right, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet is out.  Done.  So it was a bit later than I expected, and the final run on it gave me food for thought.

WATCH SWITCHING BETWEEN SOFTWARE: I found some annoying artifacts from moving from one piece of software to another – there can be subtle differences.   I had to do some annoying search and replaces.

THINK OVER STYLISTIC CHOICES EARLY AND FOLLOW UP: You may make certain formatting choices – like bolding certain things (business cards or telepathy), certain uses of quotes, etc.  Make sure you’re consistent.  I found ONE case of not following my own formatting, and I nearly missed it.

DO A SERIOUS READ-THROUGH AND CORRECTION EARLY: I wish I did this.  Take, say, an early draft, and edit it as if it’s for print.  This will help you find your mistakes, issues, common problems, and get plenty of distracting tiny errors out of the way – so you can edit.

KEEP A LIST OF ERRORS YOU FIND OR WORRY ABOUT: This helped me a lot.  As I did my final readthroughs, I kept a list of suspicious things or choices I want to review.  This let me do some amazing fine editing easy because then I could globally search.

SEARCH AND REPLACE IS YOUR FRIEND IF YOU DO IT STEP BY STEP: Global search and replace can mess up your document (as we all know).  However going slow, reviewing EACH possible replacement (or doing it by hand for each found) let’s you avoid problems.  Also it acts as a second review!

YOU CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH: At some point you can’t edit forever.  So don’t.  Learn your limits.  In fact . . .

GO EBOOK FIRST: This is a trick I evolved from a friend.  Do an ebook first, and distribute it.  It gives you immediate feedback, then you can update the ebook quickly.  Go print a bit later (like I’m doing it 4-6 weeks later).

KEEP A “LIVE” DOCUMENT: A big advantage of going ebook first is feedback.  So I keep a “Live” document I’m always editing as a core, representative document.  That will become the print book – but if I find errors I modify all 3 documents (ebook, Print, Live) for later.

So lots of lessons to share.  I’m certain I’ll have more to share – I think I need to make a kind of writing checklist sometime!

Steven Savage