Thursday, April 11, 2013

Writing 101: Pursuing Perfection

I tend to over-research my books. I once spent an entire afternoon learing the history of plumbing in order to double-check a chamber pot reference (once upon a time I wrote historical novels). I pursue perfection...and sometimes it's a real problem.  

The Perfect Novel

Every writer wants their work to be error-free, engaging, important. Thar's not the kind of perfection I'm talking about. I get so caught up un perfecting the details, it might take me years just to finish a single story. I take perfection to such a dark place, it nearly set me back to the beginning of my newest book.

It all started with a discussion about global warming. That might sound random, but it's relevant to the book in question in a roundabout way, and therefore to this story. As the discussion carried on, I realized that I had estimated the future projected water table incorrectly.

I'm terrible with math, anything involving numbers really, so this is not shocking. But I was upset, because I  realized the science of the story is wrong.

Specifically, I realized that my map was wrong. It could not be tolerated. I immediately began making plans to throw the story out altogether, go back and do more research to get it right this time.

I was lucky that day, however, because someone else told me I was acting crazy. It was true. Someone else had to remind of what no writer should forget: it's my story, so there is no right and wrong. I make the world, I make the map.

When you're busy pursing perfection and getting caught up in the details, throwing out an entire book (or even half of a first draft) suddenly doesn't seem like a terrible idea (and trust me, it really is). Don't get too caught up in the details of writing it perfectly and getting every fact right. Sometimes, creative license isn't just an option -- it's an absolute necessity. 

Just remember to repeat this to yourself the next time you start wading through the detail swamp: it's my story...I can lie if I want to.

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