Two members of Writers Abroad, on opposite sides of the North American continent, discuss this age-old topic.
Part 1 (Part 2 will be posted next week)
SB: M, You recently said that perfection can be a barrier for a writer, can you expand on that?
MS: I’m really referring to my own work which I often compare to that of others, I feel my work could be more polished.
SB: What do you mean by polished M? Do you mean in terms of the rules of writing?
MS: Yes, and no. It is so beneficial to belong to Writers Abroad and have this wide and diverse membership read my work and offer suggestions for the many ways to change and improve it… but… my concern is that the heart of the work could get diluted. In striving for perfection, will the story lose some of its soul?
SB: I know exactly what you mean. IMHO, as long as the critiques and reviews are suggestions, they can be taken or otherwise. Who is making the rules anyway. There is a trend now for the writer to be much more true to themselves.
MS: In what way S?
SB: Personally, I feel there are times to forget about grammar – for instance, and this is just an example. Let’s take sentence structure, there could be times when, say, a series of two-word (or even one-word) sentences will add to the texture, to the tension, to the rhythm of the work.
MS: Interesting. When I submit a piece for review that is in the first stage of creation I’d much rather hear about how my work makes a reader feel, than to know I’ve missed out a semi colon for instance. After that, when the work is not as vulnerable, I’m all for suggestions on sentence structure and writing rules, like show, not tell and so on. Then, of course, there’s this polish that many publishers state in their calls for submission.
SB: Oh yes, when it comes to polish, I’m inclined to look at it a bit like a painting – you know how you can overwork a painting – there has to be a time to leave well alone. Over polishing can take the shine right off. You can take all the perfection away by trying to make it more perfect. But observing the rules – and then breaking them can also work.
MS: Ha S! Like your Picasso analogy?
SB: Aaaah, the story goes that Picasso had to go to art school and learn all the rules (and there are good examples of how he executed those rules as a student) – but then he was true to himself, and look at his success. Looking at his work, I do see all the deep understanding of those rules. Not visible. But understood.
MS: Back to the rules (you see how I have to keep bringing you back on topic!) – are we still talking about grammar here, or rules laid down by publishers.
SB: Gosh, M. Publishers’ guidelines are a whole n’other kettle of fish. They all seem different. Fonts, formats, etc etc etc. But I think once you find a good fit with a publisher, they will respond very kindly once they see the spirit of the work. But they can still be tricky. I understand Margaret Atwood still, after a lifetime as a successful author, has to negotiate small stuff with her editor (trading a comma with a semi colon for instance). It’s the writing world.
MS: But what about self publishing – I’ve had great success with mine. At least I could be true to myself with that.
SB: And that’s the nutshell of it M – being true to ourselves – but also being happy to consider the invaluable suggestions made by our WA members and our teams of beta readers. Happy Birthday by the way.
Part 2 next week. Join M and S as they take this discussion further, maybe addressing some of your comments and feedback.