#117: What's Good Enough?

Every week, I write a short post like this one. I want to share something that I’ve learned or an idea that I’m pondering related to writing. The series has been running pretty consistently for over two years now. You would expect that after almost 120 posts, I would develop a reasonably accurate sense of what’s going to go down well with my readers. It’s not super complicated, is it?

I wish. Some posts do better than others, of course, and I seem to have very little control over it. I may labour over a post for days only to see it go down Tumblr’s drain with barely anyone noticing. Sometimes, I’m in a rush and hammer out several paragraphs late on Sunday evening, which will do vastly better. Why? I can’t explain it.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one struggling with this. Almost every creative does in some form — from budding writers to international film studios. How else could you explain movies which receive hundreds of millions in funding only to be shredded to pieces at the box office during the premiere weekend? Surely, one of the hundreds of people working on set could’ve pointed out that the $25 million car crash scene that the crew was about to shoot made absolutely no sense in the script?

The problem is that regardless of experience or how much money you have, we’re all terrible judges of our own work. Art is also largely subjective. A 1000 people might read a book and like it, and the next person that reads it will see something completely different. Our perception is a function of our experience. Artists can hope that others will like what they make. They can work as hard as we can to make their work good. But they can never know for sure whether it is actually good.

Even the biggest and most talented novelists have written books that they would prefer to quietly disappear from their bibliography. You know, just pretend that it never happened.

On the contrary, many songs that went to become greatest hits were afterthoughts – mere filler tacked on to the backs of albums to justify the $20 price tag.

Putting things out there is as much a gamble if you are Joe Nobody as if you are Margaret Atwood or Steven Spielberg. You have no track record when you start out, but the more credit you earn, the more pressure there is. When people go see a Steven Spielberg film, they expect nothing short of excellence. Every detail gets scrutinised by the press. To be honest, I’m not sure which one of the two is better.

No matter how long you agonise over your current project, no matter how perfect you make it, you still only see what you can see. Whether you think that it’s the best thing that happened to humanity or the absolute worst piece of crap, it’s not up to you to decide. So stop worrying and put it out there. If it bombs, you can always write something else.

What I Am Reading

I’m reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. I’m about a quarter in and things are just about starting to pick up.

At the same time, I’m also listening to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood — the recently published sequel to The Handmaid’s tale. It’s familiar but different at the same time. Definitely lighter in tone than the original book. But I’m only about halfway in.


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