Monday, October 17, 2011

When Is ‘Good Enough’ Really Good Enough?

When do you consider your work good enough? When your critique partners have no more major comments? When it’s published? When it gets a starred review? When it wins an award?
Perhaps. But, for every answer, there’s a way to refute it.

‘It’s good enough for my critique partners, so it’s got to be good enough for an agent or editor.’
Maybe. It depends on how thorough your critique partners were, and how well you absorbed their feedback.

‘It’s good enough to get me an agent, so it must be good enough for an editor.’
Again, maybe. If your manuscript attracted an agent, then there’s at least one shining element to your story that she believes in. But that doesn’t mean she thinks it’s close to being done.

‘It’s good enough for my editor, so it must be good enough to greet the world.’
This depends on so many things. The editor could have been sold on that same shining element that attracted your agent, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the book has transformed into one big, shining story. It might have, or the editor might have gotten it to the point where the flaws were merely acceptable. Meaning, many readers may not notice or care about them, but the astute reader will likely catch them every time.

So, what about ‘My book got a starred review’ or ‘My book won an award’?
A starred review comes from an individual, so it means the flaws were overshadowed by the good parts for that one person. If another person from the same organization had reviewed your book, you might have gotten a different response. It all depends on taste. An award is bestowed by a group of people, and they agree that your work is deserving of this award. It’s still a small group, though. Much smaller than the rest of the reading population. So is this a good measure?

What does it really mean to say ‘my work is good enough’?

Let’s say you give your work to an agent or editor hoping she won’t notice a weak area in the story, or you assume that weak area is fine if she doesn’t say anything about it. Or, let’s say you rationalize away a voiced concern because so-and-so-author gets away with it in her books. Well, you can almost count on this coming back to haunt you, especially if you’re a debut author.

Once your work is out there, there’s no taking it back. If you (or someone else) notice a flaw in your work, other people will, too. Hoping, insisting, or rationalizing that something isn’t a problem doesn’t make it true. Instead, it sets you up for the firing squad that’s taken up residence on Amazon’s review forums. :)

For me, this is what it really means to say one’s work is good enough:
  1. You have listened with an objective ear to the feedback from your critique partners, agent, and/or editor.
  2. You have taken a good, hard look at the areas of concern (and put other successful books out of your mind).
  3. You’ve done everything you can to resolve those issues, likely moving out of your comfort zone in order to do it.
There might still be a reader who catches something that no one else did. But, you know what? That’s okay, because, if you’ve done everything above, that thing will be so minor it really won’t matter.


Kelly Hashway said...

I think no matter what, we will always wonder if our work is good enough. Even after the CP's love it, and agent takes us on, and an editor helps it make its way to print. There's always that wonder.

Legacy said...

I agree with you and Kelly on this one Tabitha. I always think my work can be better so I never know know when its ready. Sometimes after we've worked on something like forever and it seems complete its ready even if we don't know it is. Great post Tabitha. I hope your well.

Tabitha said...

Kelly - exactly, and I think this is a sign of a true writer. Someone who thinks they've 'got it down' isn't going to succeed down the road. Writing is about growing and exploring and bringing new perspectives to the table. Someone who thinks they've 'got it' isn't going to do that.

Legacy - I'm doing great! Busy, but that's normal. I hope you are well, too. It's hard to know when our work is ready. Lucky for us we've got our critique partners to help us along. :)

Mirka Breen said...

I’m of two minds. It amazes me that my writing is as good as it is, and no, it’s never good enough.

Go figure.

Catherine Stine said...

Your #3 is a very important factor!
I have very high standards, and I am my own most critical judge. I pile through many drafts. It's probably good enough when I feel really thrilled by it, when my agent likes it, and when my most trusted readers like it. There are always doubts that creep in, but when those elements are present 90 percent of the time, I feel safe.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I think there's always room for improvement no matter where you are in the process. You just have to weigh, like you say, have you done what you feel is your best to improve your manuscript enough to feel like you can go on to the next stage.

Unknown said...

I think even in print, there's always things you're wishing to change. But, if I find myself editing things that people already enjoy, I know it's time for me to write another story.

OEBooks said...

Every time I think of the reviews for Who Moved My Cheese I know 'good enough', is when I say it's good enough.

Courtney Koschel said...

Great post, Tabitha.

I just started submitting my MS, so I've definitely been asking myself this question a lot recently. It's scary! No matter how good someone may tell me it is, I still have my doubts. I was talking to a best selling author and they said it never goes away...even when it's on the shelf.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

This post is a great reminder that we shouldn't settle. We should constantly be looking for ways to take our writing to the next level.

Tabitha said...

Mirka - you're not alone. :) I think many writers think that about their work. I sure do. :)

Catherine - sounds like you've got a great system! I'm still working on mine. I still tend to think on the side of 'it's not good enough yet.' I'm still trying to find that balance. :)

Natalie - exactly!! Improving at every stage is the key to pushing yourself to write the best book you possibly can. :)

Tabitha said...

Diane - yeah, as you grow as a writer, the stuff you've written and published previously might make you wish you could take a red pen to it. But I see that as a good thing. It means you've continued to grow and learn, and the books you write from then on will continue to be better.

RYCJ - well, yeah. That's not really in question. The point is to push yourself to create the best work you possibly can while staying true to your story. If you say 'it's good enough' too early, well...

Courtney - yep, I've heard the same thing. And I think that's the sign of a great writer because that person will continue to grow and learn and write even better books. :)

inluvwithwords - EXACTLY!!! Never settle, even if your book is already on the shelves. Push yourself to write a better book next. That's exactly the point I was trying to make. :)

Yanting Gueh said...

I suppose when I've written and revised my heart out, sent for critiques, and know for sure that there isn't anything I can do anymore (at that current stage as a writer), then the work will be good enough. Whatever feedback comes in, I'll just absorb the helpful ones and put them to use in my next book project.