This week I worked on another writing task – a new type of composition that left me perplexed and struggling at times. I banged my head against the keyboard time and again as the piece refused to jell until, in the middle of the night, I realized that reorganization would solve my problem. I needed to return to my original conception, sketched out a year ago. Once I did, the words flowed.
Well, maybe not flowed, but they came out. It was still more work and done with less certainty than I’d experience drafting a conventional chapter or article. That shouldn’t surprise me, now, should it? When you move out of your comfort zone to try something different, it won’t be as easy as doing the tasks at which you’re practiced. In the end, the composition was complete and, most importantly, it was good enough for a first draft that would go off to be edited by a collaborator. And that’s the key: getting to good enough.
What I wrote isn’t perfect but it will never be. It can be better but the marginal return of my fiddling with it for hours and days more without feedback? That’s extremely limited. What my writing needs right now is another set of eyes, preferably ones that are connected to a virtual red pen that will mark up and tweak the piece. Heck, I’d be grateful if the response was simply to eviscerate it and say “you missed this, this and this.”
Too often we jinx ourselves by imagining that our first drafts will be perfect and that they’ll inspire a swooning reaction in their first reading. “What a genius! Let’s print this right now!”
That’s ridiculous and damaging thinking because, of course, nobody’s perfect (or ‘pobody’s nerfect’ as we used to say in the seventies). But every one of us can get to good enough with our writing and then enlist someone else’s help to make it better.
Mind you, I’m incredibly grateful that I have friends and colleagues who generously offer to review and critique my work and I’m happy to do the same for them in return. After all, thoughtful criticism helps me improve as a writer, teacher and editor. And isn’t that good enough?