This weekend, I hung out with my mom’s writing group at a coffee shop in town. The group consists of some of my mom’s college English teacher friends who did their own version of NaNoWriMo during the month of June (November being an awful month for teachers to write a whole novel). They each have finished drafts, and they scheduled this meeting to discuss revision strategies. My brother, who is finishing the draft of a novel, came to the writing group, too. I’ve also got a giant ugly draft that I’m trying to shape into something a little less ugly.
Everybody in the group, including myself, was dealing with the sad thing that happens when you finish a draft you had been excited about, the moment when you look down at your masterpiece to discover it’s actually a putrid rotting mess that only resembles a novel if you squint really hard. This is the stage you realize how far removed your book is from your high expectations.
This realization is super depressing. It can be hard to charge ahead knowing how much work needs to be done to make it everything you want. My brother suggested we cut ourselves some slack.
“Not every book needs to be your major opus,” he said. “Maybe this book can be, like, your pretty-good opus.”
Immediately I felt better. It’s reasonable that our books are not going to be everything. They do not need to be laugh-out-loud funny and tear-jerking and wonder-inducing and heart-pounding and super deep and quick-paced and beautifully written and make your reader reevaluate their culture and warm the cockles of their heart and win a Pulitzer prize and land on the NYT bestseller list. They should be something. They do not to be everything.
Maybe this idea is completely obvious to everyone but me. But there’s something about knowing my words will be printed and as a result unchangeable that has really ratcheted up my anxiety of late. I’ve been grappling with my desire for the book to be perfect and a great experience for every reader and I’m afraid that unless I accomplish this, I’m gonna feel crappy and dissatisfied. But the reality is that perfection is an impossibility. Again, not an earth-shattering statement, but a lesson that I’ve needed to re-learn recently.