Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

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10 thoughts on “Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

  1. Reblogged this on Danielle Lenee Davis and commented:
    Laekan Kemp has written an excellent post about readers. As a reader, I think this post says it all! I, too, am looking for a good story, and an authentic and strong voice. Yes, I agree! This is exactly why I continue to read the series books that I do.

    Check out her post!

    • Thank you for the reblog! As a reader I know that I’ve come across books, even by my favorite authors sometimes, that had obvious errors or flaws. But that didn’t stop me from being in awe of them or enjoying the journey. That’s what reading is all about anyway.

  2. emmawicker says:

    I love this post. It is so hard to know when to stop. I too could edit and rewrite until the end of time but then my books would never get out there. I don’t have a degree in creative writing either – I studied psychology and sociology which was silly really but ah well. Like the author you mentioned I also read a ridiculous amount of books. I just can’t see a better way of being able to learn how to write! All we can do is our best. Sometimes it is hard though, to remember that and step away from the MS that we are currently destroying through over-editing lol

    • Interestingly enough most of the writers I’ve met online or swapped manuscripts with have a degree in sociology or psychology so I definitely think there’s something to that. But anyway, as for editing, it is really hard to know when to stop. After finishing five novels I can say that my instincts have certainly gotten stronger but that doesn’t mean I don’t still doubt. Especially when I near a publication date, those fears always make me question whether or not I should do one more read through or tweak one more thing. But like you said, if we never forced ourselves to finally let go, we’d be the only people in the world to ever read our books and what’s the point in all of those drafts and revisions if we aren’t going to share the final product with others.

      • emmawicker says:

        That is interesting… and strangely comforting to know. Funnily enough since I posted the previous comment I found a major plot hole in my 2nd MS – not too far in so even though it’s big it’s easily recitifed. The problem that it has caused though is that now I find myself combing through my 1st and apparently finished (lol) MS and I’m starting to feel like I want to change a few things…. does it ever end? lol

  3. Excellent point! You have just inspired me to finish my next novel – not perfect, but a great read. 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m so glad this post inspired you. The author I mentioned definitely inspired me and thanks to her words I plan on going into this final read through of my novel with less fear and more compassion. I refuse to beat myself up over every imperfection and instead I look forward to reading every word with a sense of pride knowing that I did my absolute best.

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yes, good post Laekan. Often we forget just who we’re writing for. It’s a timely reminder. However I think I have a good instinct of when something is good enough, maybe because I’m not expert enough to spot the shortfalls.

    • I think instincts definitely get stronger over time and the more we write the better we are at creating/realizing/navigating all of the elements that make a great story. Some people may forget along the way who they’re writing for but for other authors, like me, I think the real problem is that we are constantly thinking about reader’s expectations and trying our hardest to meet them. But like the author in the Q&A session pointed out, we often confuse reader’s expectations with some kind of standard of perfection when really they’re not the same. That was the part that really encouraged me because the quest for perfection is something I struggle with constantly.

  5. Reblogged this on laekanzeakemp and commented:

    *To celebrate my two-year blogging anniversary, I’ll be re-blogging some of my favorite posts from 2014 throughout the month of December*

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