Friday, October 10, 2008

The Perfection Problem: Part 1, Naming It

I'm about half of the way through The Graveyard Book right now, and I keep thinking about the reading Neil did. I'm also beginning to buckle down on my initial thesis revisions. I like having the two in my mind at the same time.

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and I've been asking myself why. The thing is, it's not really because of how elegantly he writes. Let's face it, he doesn't write all that elegantly at all. Neil's prose is pretty simple and straight forward. On the way back, Deb and I were talking about how bad he'd get dinged in a critique group for his frequent use of "was." But, that's the thing, sometimes "was" is the right word, passive tense or not.

In a critique group, we're so focused on trying to make things perfect that we sometimes work too hard on finding things to fix. There have been plenty of times when I've talked with someone about something that was not only published, but even acclaimed or award-winning, and we've talked about the fact that said author would have been criticized in a critique group for one thing or another in that piece.

"But, it's a prize winning author!" You say. "They've done it just fine." And you're absolutely right.

The critique group danger is always thinking there's something to fix. Don't get me wrong, there's often plenty to fix and many ways to make something stronger. But, as soon as we work too hard to make something "perfect" we start squeezing out the character of the thing we're writing/revising/critiquing.

Right now I recognize in my own writing this struggle for the perfect. I've wandered away from the land of the happy medium and into the land of "if it isn't perfect, it's not worth it." Time to make a figurative U-turn.

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