I Need It Thursday

“I don’t need it good, I need it Thursday!” (Unknown, but probably an editor)

Gilded Dragonfly is dealing with a few personal issues, and I’m rushing around getting ready for yet another business trip, so I’ll keep this brief.

A few years back I participated in a fiction writing workshop, where we were given exactly one hour to write a four-page short story.  Any topic, any style – but get it done in 60 minutes.  One hour later I had “The Slippery Slope,” a four-page story about a ghost who was haunted by a living person.  I remember two things about the story:
1. It sucked.
2. It got finished.

It went around and around in a big circle in my head.  It sucked, but it got done.  But it sucked.  But it got done.  But it really, really sucked.  And so on, until I finally realized what the instructor, a horror author whose name you’d probably recognize, was trying to communicate to us:  that writing is as much a craft as it is an art, and only a blessed few will ever achieve perfection.  Anyone who has to write to a regular schedule – newspapers, technical writers, and now even bloggers – knows what it’s like to face that looming blank space as the minutes tick away.  And because nobody wants to turn in their own “Slippery Slope,” the temptation remains to edit and proof and change and revise, over and over again, in pursuit of that magical bullseye.

Well, give it a rest.  For once, ignore your form and just focus on crossing the finish line.  Just get it done.  If it sucks that badly, do it over – and get it done.  Repeat until repetition becomes no longer necessary.  Worry about polishing after you’ve got the hang of producing.

Napoleon Bonaparte is rumored to have said something like, “It takes seventy thousand casualties to train one lieutenant colonel.”  George Patton is known to have said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  Josef Stalin, definitely a man who knew how to get things done, said something like, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”  Although often misquoted, author Malcolm Gladwell has written that you must invest ten thousand hours of practice to become a world-class expert in anything.  And I’m fond of saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good, while the good is the enemy of the good-enough.  Most bosses don’t appreciate that last sentiment, but editors will understand.

Who knows how much each of us will have to work at this elusive obsession of ours before we get really good at it?  So start today:  just begin cranking out the words.  Sooner or later you’ll drain away all the sludge and cobwebs that were soiling your artistry and gumming up your craftsmanship, and your work will be both good and done on Thursday!

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “I Need It Thursday

  1. Although National Novel Writing Month has been known to turn out more than its fair share of literary dogs, I like the idea of sticking to a hard deadline with a considerable amount of produce in a short period of time. If you can survive the landslide that is November *and* produce something that doesn’t stink on dry ice, you may actually stand a chance in this business.

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  2. John, you are so right! People who worry about the perfect beginning seldom make their way to the middle, much less the end. Nora Roberts and other real pros remind us we can’t fix a blank page. Just write it!

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  3. Mary is aiming at me! I will finish my story, I will finish my story, I will….
    Thanks John this was just the nudge I needed.

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  4. John,
    Thanks for reminding us that we must finish our work in progress, so we can get it edited, polished, and published. 🙂

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  5. So true. I get so much done when I have a terrible deadline!

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