Immersed In Imperfection

If you have read my blog over the last few months, you may remember that I had been taking a manuscript writing class.  Well, the class has ended now and I do have some notes flagged to write about on my blog when I have time to compile them into something that can be comprehended.  It won’t be until sometime in January, though.

The instructor did something unexpected on the last day of learning: he handed out a copy of his work-in-progress for all of us to critique.  Up until this point, we read short stories in our text book and some handouts that he copied and provided our critique (what we liked and didn’t like, what worked for us and what didn’t and why.)

Imperfection

As I read his story, I was struck by how imperfect it was.  Granted, I didn’t find nearly as many ‘red mark’ items on his story as he did on my stories, but it was flawed nonetheless.  Members of the class voiced opinions about what they perceived as weak points and parts that didn’t appear integral to the story.  They offered ideas as to how he could tie together the beginning and the ending.

I watched the instructor for his reaction to the input.  He did not appear defensive, but did try to describe what idea or theme he was going for in the story.  He explained why some suggested changes wouldn’t work for the story he wanted to tell.  He acknowledged that he thought he was almost done, but now had to go back to the drawing board.  In that moment, I recognized something:  he looked like every one of us in that class.

I understand that writing a story never gets easy, because each story is complicated in its own little way, so I don’t know why I never imagined that he would still struggle with writing a story–just like us.  I guess I thought that being an instructor somehow gave him some sort of story-writing super power; that he’d crossed some magical threshold that allowed him to fine-tune a story without a small village of people picking it apart.  (You know, the “practice makes perfect” cliché.)  I suppose that, in writing, the best we can hope for is “practice makes not-a-hideous-embarrassment.”   I’ll take it.

This glimpse into the instructor’s struggles with finalizing his story put my own writing in perspective.  It seems that I have once again set impossible expectations for myself.  I now know I will never write the “perfect” story.  There will always be someone who can find the weak spots that I couldn’t see and have an idea about how to make it better, and, of course, there will always be people that will just not like the story.  That’s okay.  I mean, how many flawless things in life catch your attention?  Isn’t it the little imperfections that often capture your interest?

Since I write mysteries, and I’ve got an education in Psychology, I have to wonder:  was this story truly what he envisioned as a nearly-complete project, or was it something he knew needed a lot more work, but was just the thing to give insecure writers (like me) perspective with a little confidence on the side?  Maybe it was his way of saying, “it may never be perfect.”  I’ll never know.  And that’s okay, too.

Do you appreciate imperfections in your stories, or do you polish them away?

Image by mistynbrian via photobucket.com

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14 thoughts on “Immersed In Imperfection

  1. Brown Eyed Mystic December 18, 2010 / 6:24 PM

    Hmm, interesting view you’ve put forth, Janna. I often think about writers like Stephen King, James Patterson et al. Are their works THAT perfect? Really? Or is it just a snow-ball effect of people recognising their NEAR-PERFECTION? Also, what is perfection, anyway? The answer is that everyone has their own say when it comes to writing. Of course, one can reach a point where MOST love their work, but I don’t know if there’s even a point where EVERYONE loves one’s work, ever.

    So I’m loosing the discussion on loose ends. Hope someone will expound on it.

    -BrownEyed

    • jannatwrites December 18, 2010 / 10:56 PM

      I agree, Brown Eyed, that there is no such thing as true perfection. I look at attainable perfection as that point when I (and possibly a few critical test readers) can look at a story and are unable to poke holes in the plot or find flaws in the storyline. That’s about as perfect as I could ever hope for (though it’s not happened yet.)

      Being that perfection is subjective in the eye of the reader, I also agree that it’s impossible for all readers to love one’s work. Never going to happen. And, just because the reader likes some of the author’s stories, doesn’t mean that they will like all of them.

      I also think the irregularities or oddities in a story make it interesting. A technically correct story which follows all the “rules” would be like driving on a straight road. The unexpected departure from the norm turns the reading experience into a test drive on a curvy mountain road. Maybe a bad analogy, but it’s the best I could do at this late hour 🙂

  2. Artswebshow December 18, 2010 / 7:17 PM

    I suspect that the instructor wrote a flawed piece on purpose.
    It’s an odd way of teaching to be sure. An ingenius way actually.
    If it was in fact on purpose then it was a clever exercise in raising the confidence of his students by forcing them to challenge those more experienced.
    To be a great you have to challenge the work of the greats that have gone before.
    You’re in good hands

    • Tim Weaver December 18, 2010 / 10:07 PM

      I was in the same class. A very nice guy, but I think you’re overestimating him. I could be wrong, but I don’t get that feeling, as nothing felt “rehearsed” in how he explained what he was trying to accomplish. On the other hand, I was shocked by how…off…parts of it were.

      If it was a set-up, he should be teaching Thespian arts, not writing, and I need to give up poker because I’m going to lose my shirt. If it wasn’t a set-up, then it merely proves that almost all writing needs to be edited to some degree or another.

      A bit more information: it was written in the first person, which can be pretty difficult…I did one short story in FP present, and it kicked my ass trying to keep everything straight..tenses, agreement, modifier issues, everything. In the end, it came together, but I had something like 14 drafts of it.

      • jannatwrites December 18, 2010 / 11:06 PM

        Okay, I’ve struggled with the same thing. It was the parts that were way off that caused me to suspect it may not have been as ‘finished’ as he let on (like the beginning that didn’t tie into anything else and the ending that didn’t seem to fit with the story the mid-section had told.)

        Maybe he is an actor of sorts, or maybe he doesn’t have fine-tuned self-editing skills…I don’t know. I’ve written some in first person, though I prefer third person. My main problem with first person is that the story is limited to only what that person “knows.” It has to be just the right story for that to work.

    • jannatwrites December 18, 2010 / 11:00 PM

      I guess the suspicious part of me kicked in, causing me to wonder if there was a deeper plan. I like the line in your comment, “To be a great you have to challenge the work of the greats that have gone before.” Thanks for stopping by!

    • milkfever December 19, 2010 / 6:37 PM

      I was wondering the same thing as Artswebshow. But he sounds like a good teacher either way.
      As Hemingway wrote, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

      • jannatwrites December 19, 2010 / 8:12 PM

        Love the quote, Lisa. So true 🙂 It was a fun exercise whether or not the goofs were intentional.

  3. nrhatch December 18, 2010 / 10:32 PM

    Interesting post, Janna.

    I have rarely read (or written) anything that I viewed as PERFECT. But much of what I read is Good Enough. 🙂

    • jannatwrites December 18, 2010 / 11:11 PM

      Thanks, Nancy. There’s nothing wrong with Good Enough…as long as it’s good enough. I’d rather my writing be brilliant than perfect 😉 But I’d settle for good enough!

  4. 2blu2btru December 20, 2010 / 6:18 AM

    I struggle with this a lot since my last writing workshop class. I don’t have a person I’d trust to read for those inconsistencies/imperfections. I think all writers need readers who can spot the weak points. No one is ever perfect.

    I don’t know if your instructor was giving you all a boost of confidence. He probably had worked on it so long that he felt it was almost finished–he no longer saw the flaws or thought he’d fixed them sufficiently. I’ve polished works to a shine only to have a workshop and have people ask about loose ends and feel like I was back to the drawing board in much the same way. I suspect most writers either spend years on perfecting a piece (a la Stephen King), or have a really good relationship with their editors. Great Post!

    • jannatwrites December 20, 2010 / 9:42 PM

      You could be right; maybe the instructor had become story-blind after looking at it so long. That would explain the ‘obvious’ goofs.

      It is good to know that it’s a common affliction to *think* your story is bullet-proof, only to find it riddled with holes. If I could conquer my feelings of failure when that happens, I could conquer the world. Well, not literally, but I might get more sleep 🙂

  5. Ollin December 20, 2010 / 5:43 PM

    One thing I’ve learned more than the idea that I can’t be perfect, is that I never seem to LEARN the idea that I can’t be perfect. I guess that makes me pretty imperfect. 🙂

    • jannatwrites December 20, 2010 / 9:46 PM

      I wonder why we can’t accept that we make mistakes? I’m pretty hard on myself when I find that I am less than perfect (which is pretty much daily). Maybe we can adopt Nancy’s ‘good enough’ attitude and move on?

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