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.)
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?
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