Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Key To A Completed Novel Is Completion

There's a catchy meme circulating on the internet.

Done Beats Perfect.

As soon as I read it, I thought about several writers I know who have been working on their novel for a long time.

A loooooooooonnnng time.

It is good, of course, to make your novel a quality piece of work. In fact, it could probably be said that most writers decide too early that their novel is done, and they put out a volume that could still use significant editing and rewriting.

But there are those perfectionists - you know who you are - who believe that they can continue to improve their novel, and they want to get it just right before they launch it.

The flip side of their desire for perfection is the fear that if it isn't perfect, they will find embarrassing mistakes after their book is published.

Well, let me corroborate your fears right now. No matter how perfect you make your book, it will almost certainly have mistakes. Because as you rewrite and fix every last mistake in the book, that very "fixing" process will create more mistakes. So know going in that your book will have at least a few glitches. And also know that if you've done a good job, they will be few, and your readers will forgive you.

Better that than having your novel be a work-in-progress forever.

You've probably read Winston Churchill's famous quote about a book starting out as an amusement, then becoming a mistress, then a master, then a tyrant, and that you must eventually kill the monster and fling him to the public. What he said is appropriate. At some point you simply have to make the decision that the book is done and move on to the next one.

There is actually evidence that suggests that switching your focus from perfection to production leads to greater perfection.

In their perennial bestseller Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, the authors discuss an experiment one of them did in a ceramics class he taught. He divided the class into two groups.

The assignment for members of the first group was to create a single perfect pot. They could take the entire semester to produce this pot, and their grade would be determined by how perfect the pot was.

The assignment for members of the second group was to produce as many pots as possible over the course of the semester. Their grade would be based only on the final number of pots, regardless of quality. They were told to ignore quality.

What happened?

The group that focused exclusively on quantity ended up making the highest quality pots.

The group that focused exclusively on quality ended up making inferior pots.

The benefits of practice are clear in every field. If you want to be a better skier, spend more time skiing. If you want to write a better book, write more books.

If you are one of those perfectionists still trying to make your first novel better, now is the best time to decide it is done, or at least set a hard deadline for when it will be done.

With a few notable exceptions, the best writers tend to be the ones who've written several books at the minimum.

Speaking for myself, I utilized some skills in my most recent book that I'd never even thought of at the time I finished my first. I won't claim any particular level of quality, although my most recent book is getting great reviews. But I do know that writing more leads to writing better.

So go ahead. Take the leap. Finish your first novel.


  1. As someone who's been working on the same novel for a looooong time, thanks for this post! Just what I needed to hear. Also, your Tahoe series is great! I've just started #7 and have enjoyed every book.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for the comment! I'm glad my words help. I'm also working on a new project that I need to move forward on. One of my coming posts will probably deal with that.

      Thanks also for your interest in my books!