Jump to content

When Good Enough is Good Enough

Recommended Posts

This is a black and white photograph of a little boy throwing a Frisbee on a beach.

In August 2021, my husband and I hugged our son goodbye and left him at a small college in Ohio, 2033 miles away from our home in Seattle. 

Minutes before the drop-off, my husband realized he had never shown our late blooming son how to shave with a good, old fashioned razor. And as we flew back to Seattle, I panic-realized that I had never taught him how to manage a high fever. How to wrap a scarf to prevent frostbite. How to buy used textbooks. How to shop for groceries. How to get the best price on groceries. How to cook the groceries in a dorm-size microwave. How to date. How to weather a broken heart. 

I had dropped my boy in the middle of Ohio with nary a survival skill. 

This coming August, my husband and I will be hugging our daughter goodbye and leaving her at The University of TBD. Depending on the generosity of financial aid packages, she will be at one of ten schools, all of them between 311 and 2831 miles from home.

Last week, at the school that’s 1945 miles away, thermometers recorded a high of two degrees. At the university that’s 2669 miles away, blizzards dumped six feet of snow and people froze in their cars. The city with the school that’s 2294 miles away has had a record number of homicides for the past two years. 

I know I have not yet prepared her to dress for high-of-two-degrees weather. I haven’t told her about the importance of steering clear of people with homicidal tendencies, of wearing shower shoes, of eating and hydrating before going to parties. I don’t think she knows the difference between Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen. That with the proper doohickey, she can make ramen in a microwave. That she must never walk alone at night. I cannot forget to tell her she can never walk alone at night. Never ever. She has absolutely no idea how life-threatening life can be.

And then there are the lapses in etiquette! Just the other day, after returning from dinner with her boyfriend and his family, she announced, “I didn’t know I was supposed to put my napkin in my lap. But they all did, so I realized I should too!” 

OMG. How could I have been so lax? So inattentive? I have left her so ill-prepared, unpolished, naïve. And even if I buy her a ramen doohickey and remember to tell her about parties and walking alone and shower shoes, I know there are a thousand other bits of wisdom I will forget to impart.

At some point in late 2024, my first novel, one that is even older than my children, will be sent off into the world. How nice it will be if a copy lives 2831 miles away. How nice it will be if there are copies on friends’ and strangers’ bookshelves. How nice it will be if people want to hang out with my book and the characters that populate it. It’s so nice to think about these nice things.

But just before Thanksgiving, when my amazing editor returned her first round of editorial feedback, she gently pointed out numerous not-small issues. 

Issues with character motivation. 

Issues with the timeline. 

Issues with consistency

While I had known the manuscript wasn’t perfect, her feedback revealed massive cracks in the foundation. Or perhaps I had built a foundationless story-house? Yes. Atop the San Andreas Fault. Using graham crackers and a hot glue gun.

How could I have been so lax and inattentive? How could this book have been so utterly unprepared for life outside of my laptop? How could I have been so negligent? 

These days I teach middle schoolers at a school filled with young humans who tend to reside in Perfectionistville. Especially when submitting work to writing contests, they can become paralyzed by the idea that their work is not yet perfect.

“Right,” I tell them. “And your work will never be perfect.”

They look at me with that middle schooler expression that communicates this: You, middle-age teacher-lady, are clueless. And wrong. And your outfit is so mid.

“Therefore,” I continue, unfazed, “you need to learn to recognize when good enough is good enough.” 

I share this often with my students because I am working to understand it myself: How do I know when something–my children, my writing–is good enough, ready enough for the world.

We are told that when we query agents, our query letters and manuscripts must be perfect, that when we self-publish our stories, they too must be perfect. Except we know that perfection does not exist. We humans are life-long students, always (if we are lucky) growing and learning. Likewise, the stories we create are forever works-in-progress, forever imperfect. How then do we know a piece of writing is ready enough to go out into the world?

I don’t know that we can know, not for sure. But I do know we cannot write in isolation. Or at least, we cannot write good-enough stories in isolation. Just as when we are raising children (and/or dogs, chickens, orchids, backyard vegetables), we writers need helpers. We need guidance and advice. Most importantly, we need tough love. And we need to be open to receiving that tough love. 

Over the years, my dear, wise writing partners and my equally dear, wise agent, have been the midwives of my current WIP. They have patiently shared thousands and billions of bits of feedback. They have all made the book sellable. And even with their hundreds and trillions of hours of constructive feedback, there is still so much work to be done. They, like I, lost the ability to see the story with fresh eyes.

More bad news: It can take years of trial and error to find even one good-enough critique partner, someone who is wise, honest, and savvy, someone who recognizes our potential as writers, as well as the potential of our story. It requires tenacity (and a lot of luck) to find a trusted critique partner, and even more tenacity and luck to find new people to bring aboard, generous, fresh-eyed folks who will smooth the rough edges that have gone unnoticed, partners who will tough-love our literary offspring, readying them for weird roommates, dinners with the boyfriend’s family, city-wide homicides, and high-of-two-degrees weather.

But is there anything about the writing process that is simple, efficient, and painless? No, I don’t think so either. 

So we keep going, braced by literary midwives who will help us build imperfectly beautiful, good-enough stories.


That’s right. We keep going and going and going. 

Your turn! How and where have you found a trusted soul who can discern when you are ready to query, pitch, or submit your work? How have you been able to determine when “good enough is good enough”? What else have I forgotten to tell my children?

Thank you, dear WU community, for reading and for sharing your experience and wisdom.

[url={url}]View the full article[/url]

AC Admin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



WTF is Wrong With Stephen King?

  • Create New...