Breakthrough

Sometimes as a writer I’m my own worst enemy.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been struggling with the second draft of my young-adult fantasy novel, the sequel to The Unwanted (which you can totally still buy, by the way!). I’ve been working on it for about three years now, but of course if you added up all the time I’ve spent actually working on it, that would total much less. In the in-between times, I was writing my thesis, starting a completely different book, and working on maybe ten or twelve different stories, both new ones and revisions of old work. I was dragging my feet, and I wasn’t sure why.

This week, I finally figured it out. I’d worried, as you know, that it was because I thought the book was bad (and it could be bad, who knows? Not me, I’m just the one writing it WHAT DO YOU EXPECT, HUH), or that I had just lost interest in it. Turns out, I think I was afraid of finishing it.

I’ve been in a weird place with it. I can’t say either of the previous novels, The Unwanted or my first one, Detours (which you can also totally still buy!), came easily to me. It took eight years to write the first one (which was actually my third one if you count the novel I never finished because it was godawful and the second one which was also godawful but which I turned into a fairly decent 7,500-word story which you can read here but ANYWAY). It took me three years to write The Unwanted, which felt lightning fast by comparison. This one is landing somewhere in between those two timewise, but in terms of effort it feels like climbing a mountain, in the dark. In flip flops.

Since it’s a sequel, I keep thinking, “This one has got to be better than the first one.” Sequels are tricky, right? You want to make it work as a standalone so that new readers will pick it up—AND also make it compelling enough for them to consider going back and getting the first one. AND I knew I needed to justify coming back to these characters again even when I thought I reached a fairly decent conclusion in the first book. AND I thought I needed to make it very different from the first book and maybe even tinker with structure and point of view in a way that set it apart from The Unwanted.

I was telling this book to do a whole lot more than tell a story that I was interested in writing and that I hoped people would be interested in reading. I was basically telling myself, this book has to be perfect.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is something that the best boss I ever had told me once (actually, I think she had to tell me that several times). That was in reference to graphic design, but I think it applies here as well. “Done is better than perfect” is something else I’ve been told more recently as well, and I think it applies. Lexus might be justified in the relentless pursuit of perfection, but I’m not building a two-ton luxury automobile that needs to carry passengers at a high rate of speed to their destination safely. I’m serious about writing the best book I possibly can, but I’m even more serious about finishing the best book I possibly can.

So instead of tinkering with structure and point of view, I’m going to work on finishing this next draft as efficiently as possible so I can move on to the third and hopefully final draft before the end of the year. Here’s hoping this doesn’t stretch into a four-year project.

Because there’s still the matter of a third and final novel in the series….

8 thoughts on “Breakthrough

  1. I know exactly what you mean – I too have been overwhelmed by the need to be perfect. John Steinbeck has a similar quote: “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” It’s been my mantra on several occasions. And it’s really true! The quest for perfection is stressful and can make the work stilted and clumsy – it makes it NOT good, ironically enough – but when I let it just flow, it somehow turns out better.

    • It’s so true, isn’t it? And all those short stories I mentioned that I’ve been working on lately? Since I’ve been using them to play hooky from my novel, they’ve been coming on a lot easier than they normally do. (No lie, one short story I wrote a while back took me over two years, but one I started more recently? I finished in a day.)

  2. POV is such a trackless swamp to get into when revising–I try to avoid touching it at all once I’m past about the 10k mark. There comes a point where it’s easier and faster to write a new book.

  3. I Never heard that phrase before, about perfection. Honestly, it kinda makes sense to. And could possibly be why I’ve not been good at finishing a novel Idea I’ve been working on for five years. >.<

    On a side note; I am super excited for this sequel. I literally just bought the unwanted today. I've already read it. But It's probably one of my top 10 favorite books. And that is saying something as I've read over a thousand [possibly exaggerating?] books in my lifetime. O.o

    • Keep going, man! Five years is a long time, but it took me eight to write my first novel . . . well, the first one that got published, at any rate.

      And thank you so much for the kind words about The Unwanted. Things like that are what keep me motivated, so I really appreciate it. (And a thousand books doesn’t seem too far outside the realm of possibility!)

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