Ain't good enough for you

I used to think that books were written as they are read: first a title, then the opening words of the first chapter, and then on and on, until the end. That there were no corrections or alterations made, except for fixing typos, or perhaps removing an errant semicolon.

Truly. No exaggeration. This is what I believed.

It was, you see, the way I wrote. A research paper for school would be written the same way as an in-class essay: a brief to medium period of thinking, followed by the writing of the paper. I did not do multiple drafts. Until graduate school, I didn't need to. So I assumed that Real Writers, who were, obviously, by their virtue of being Real, much better than I was, wrote in the same way, just, you know, better. 

(I think, perhaps, I am not the only person who has ever held this assumption about Real Writers. Whenever I have taught a writing-intensive course, I have put Stephen King's On Writing on the syllabus. There is a section at the end where he shows part of his revision process. Reading this section tends to cause a wide-eyed, hair-clutching reaction of surprise that someone of King's stature is not perfect straight out of the box, and relief that do-overs are allowed.)

The problem with assuming that Real Writers did not commit word to page until the word was right and perfect meant that when I first tried my hand at writing fiction, I became absolutely certain I had no talent for it. I ran out of perfect very quickly, you see, and because I couldn't rekindle it, I assumed that I would never be a writer.

Accepting that my drafts are as imperfect as I am, and that I am still a Real Writer is the hardest thing for me. Paralyzingly hard, sometimes. There are things I can't do, even in draft zero. I cannot start from anywhere other than where I think the beginning is. I cannot leave bracketed scenes - you know the [awesome space battle HERE!] sort of place holders. I've gotten better at moving on from sketched in scenes as long as I know the emotional state of my characters. I can leave a sloppy sentence that is almost there. I've learned that sometimes, interesting is better for a story than perfect.