Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

(The following is my re-edited reply to a posting at the Red Room by legendary editor Alan Rinzler (who worked with, among others, Hunter S. Thompson). Alan, now a distinguished editorial consultant, discusses the problem of writers who are unable to finish their books and has many good things to say. My reply ran longer than intended.)

I am about to publish my first novel Dragon's Ark, a contemporary Dracula tale (through Ambler House
Publishing, due out March 15, 2011). It took me about five years to complete, much too long for what could be considered a light novel.

Part of the reason for this is, well, I didn't use an outline, but another reason is that, with all the thousands of vampire novels flooding the market like the blood packets bursting in a bad horror film, mine really needs to stand out. Getting it to that point has been no easy task. 

(BTW: outside of neurological reasons, I don't believe in writer's block. There are, however, many days when
I'm simply a bad bad writer. I simply keep typing “Bob opened the door” until I get better.)

Now, (after reviews by beta readers, etc.) I'm sending out advanced review copies to booksellers and reviewers. I'm also doing the final proofs and guess what? It's not "perfect" (whatever that means).

Oh, it'll be correctly spelled and formatted and all. The continuity of its vivid characters and dizzy plot are sound. It's excellent in a dozen different ways and I do believe it stands out as a unique, colorful, entertaining, rollicking, horrific look at a fabulous legend.

But as I painstakingly review, period-by-period, my final proofs--and at this point any major rewrites are off the
table--I sometimes wince. Does that scene work as absolutely well as it could? Gee, that sentence is a lame cliché. What would Nabokov/Hammett/Straub et al do . . . ?

I could easily spend another one-to-five years making it "perfect." But, especially on a literary level, I don't know what that means! Greatness I can grasp . . . but perfection? 

One day I write a brilliant sentence. The next day I look at it and my jaw bounces on the desk. I can go back and forth like this for a looonnng time and it's not like I have a lot of that.

So, I'm tightening the belt, polishing the shoes one more time, making the sure the buttons are in the right holes and the tie is knotted. But in the end, I have to let it go out into the world.

I have no control over how readers will react. My brilliant passages will be condemned, my worst praised as "the greatest thing I've ever read." There'll even be readers who conclude that I really believe in Dracula's literal existence.

Time to let go. There’ll be reviewers who will astutely point out flaws I missed or didn’t consider as important. I know I'll look at it some day and say: "Could have done that
better." There'll be lessons I can apply to my next novel ( the rootin'-tootin Prohibition saga Butchertown) and lessons that I can't.

It’s only my first novel. May I please publish the darn thing now? I have to start somewhere. I'm sorry it's not Gravity's Rainbow.

But I still believe with my heart that Dragon's Ark is as good a book as I can write at this point in my literary life. It wants to go outside and so I'm letting it go. Maybe it'll get run over.But maybe it won't.

It could even turn out be a better book than I realize. At least I can hope. And, believe me, I will.

(re-edited 11/28/10)

Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield 

Photo by Elizabeth Burchfield

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. His essays and blog entries can be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

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