“Good Enough” Isn’t Good Enough

by Robison Wells

When I first wrote Variant it was on a dare: my brother told me that he would pay my way to the World Fantasy Convention and introduce me to all the agents and editors he knew, if I had something ready to pitch. The only problems: I had never written sci-fi or fantasy, and it was only two months away.

I was writing at the same time as another author, who was also planning on going to World Fantasy, and she and I were communicating daily throughout this process.

I wrote Variant in eleven days. I know. It was a whirlwind, and I’ve never been able to recreate it. It was the right project at the right time.

My friend also finished her book quickly—not as fast as me, but close. She asked me what I was going to do with the next six weeks. I told her, of course, that I was going to revise. She said she was going to write a second book, to have another to pitch as well.

So, I revised and edited and sent the book out to readers and got as much work done as I could in that two month window. My friend wrote a second book. We both went to World Fantasy and pitched. We both bombed out, with no luck. But two weeks later, I landed an agent for Variant. My friend, ten years later, has never published.

I bring this up because as I’m writing this blog I’m in the final days of drafting my latest book. And I can see so many flaws with it, and I keep a running list of things I need to fix, foreshadow, polish, and fill in–and that’s just the stuff I recognize as I’m writing; who knows what it will look like when I read through it?

When we type The End at the end of a project, it feels so much like it’s done, because we’ve just climbed a tall mountain and we’ve just completed a Very Hard Thing. But it’s just one step in climbing Everest. Writing the first draft is reaching base camp—there’s still at least another three camps up that mountain that we’ll need to reach, acclimatize to, and then continue onward before we’ll ever get to the summit.

Author Shannon Hale put it very well in a tweet. “Drafting is shoveling sand into a box. Revision is turning that sand into a castle.”

There are places in my book where I know there are problems. A girl sprains her ankle in one scene and then is fine the next. I know I need to fix that. And there are scenes where I’ve left myself notes such as [I DON’T KNOW HOW HORSES WORK FIGURE THIS OUT LATER]. Fortunately for me, I’m cowriting this project with another author, and our deal is that I do the drafting and she does the revisions. It’s very freeing for me to know that I can write anything I want, keep a file with a list of fixes, and know that she has to do the heavy lifting. (She says that I’m doing the heavy lifting. I think we’re both getting exactly what we want.)

My friend, from the beginning of this blog, didn’t do anything inherently wrong by choosing to write a second book instead of revising her first. She just never went back and did the work to get herself to the next level—she was content in what she had done. After publishing fifteen novels now, I don’t know how anyone can be content in what they’ve done, though. Even my books that have been published, that are effectively set in stone, still have passages I wish I could revise. And I think that’s exactly why I went on to publish and she didn’t. Because “good enough” was never good enough.

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