Seeking Perfection

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Seeking Perfection
* A Reminder
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“I’m sort of murdered for selling books. The idea is, if you make money your work can’t be literary.” Mark Helprin

Um, yet another stupid myth.

“…authors should realize that in the quest for perfection they can perfect something to death.” Dan Baldwin

Not to mention, what is perfect for the author is nothing close to perfect for a majority of readers.

Seeking Perfection

Sorry for the late delivery today. I wasn’t going to write an entry at all, but the second quote of the day was like a shot from a starter’s pistol.

That you can perfect something to death certainly is true. If you’ve ever gotten that little sick feeling in your gut as you revised or rewrote something, you know it’s true.

But the simplest and truest fact about seeking perfection is this:

Perfection doesn’t exist except through the narrowest of lenses.

The sooner you, the writer, understand that the better.

Everyone has different taste. What appears perfect to you will be a steamy, stinky pile of something nasty to someone else. And what you think sucks, someone else will not.

There are readers out there who will absolutely love a story that you deemed so “bad” you wanted to stick it into a drawer (or the electronic equivalent) and forget it.

I once decided to publish a story titled “Old Suits” even though I thought it was horrible. I still do. But a few weeks after I released it, a woman I had never met emailed me to say it was one of the finest stories she’d ever read and that it reminded her of Hemingway’s style.

I was flattered, of course, but more than that, I was flabbergasted. I was already an adherent to Robert A. Heinlein’s “business habits,”commonly known today as Heinlein’s Rules. Click here for your free, annotated copy.

And click What Heinlein’s Rules Mean to Me for a series of five blog posts that comprise a would-be interview about Heinlein’s Business Habits for Writers and why I personally find them essential.

After you’ve read those two documents, add this: The wisdom at the core of those rules is that

  • if you write, and
  • if you believe in yourself enough to publish what you write without revising, rewriting, and second-guessing your creative subconscious (attempting to “perfect” it),
  • you will have conveyed your characters’ authentic story, and
  • your work will find readers.

All of that said, yes, there’s another side.

There are readers out there who will absolutely abhor a story that you thought was perfect, or as close to perfect as you could make it.

I’m constantly amazed that around 200 people read the short stories I publish free every week through the Stanbrough Writes substack, yet I might get one “like” and zero personal comments via email or on the post itself.

Thing is, that’s simply the nature of the business. You will very seldom hear praise or be thanked aloud or with an email or (shudder) a phone call or even an online comment.

Readers show their affinity for you and your work by opening their wallet or purse, slipping out some cash or a bank card, and buying your stories and colletions and novels.

So the bottom line—You can’t perfect anything to suit everyone, so just write whatever the characters give you. That will ensure you remain true to their story.

Besides, as I’ve said in this space many times before, judging your work (good or bad) is not your job. Your opinion carries no more weight than anyone else’s, even about your own work.

If you’re a typical writer, no matter how you go about it—even if you outline and perform all the other rituals to appease the unreasoning fears you’ve been taught are necessary—your job is to write the story. Judging it is the reader’s job.

And if you’re a pure writer, one who really wants to approach your own authentic, original voice, your job isn’t even to write the story, but to convey it on behalf of your characters. To do that, you must remain true to yourself and to your characters and ignore all the myths and rituals.

Your job is to write down whatever unfolds and how the characters react to those events in words and deeds as you and they race through the story together.

And folks, nothing is better than that.

A Reminder

You Bradbury Challenge folks (and you who would like to be) get your story titles, word counts, and genres in to me before the Journal goes live tomorrow morning.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Shysters and Scammers” at

See “Sister Aimee’s “Kidnapping”” at Interesting, and story ideas.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 800

Writing of “Pretend Writer”

Day 1…… 2322 words. Total words to date…… 2322

Writing of “Untitled Stern Talbot Mystery”

Day 1…… 190 words. Total words to date…… 190

Writing of “Marvin McTavish Decides”

Day 1…… 326 words. Total words to date…… 326
Day 2…… 346 words. Total words to date…… 672

Writing of “A Midnight Sketch”

Day 1…… 1341 words. Total words to date…… 1341

Writing of Rose Padilla (WCG10SF5)

Day 1…… 4283 words. Total words to date…… 4283
Day 2…… 3963 words. Total words to date…… 8246
Day 3…… 1463 words. Total words to date…… 9709
Day 4…… 2445 words. Total words to date……12154

Total fiction words for July……… 4525
Total fiction words for 2023………… 143100
Total nonfiction words for July… 17520
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 149070
Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 263617

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date………… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………… 221
Short story collections…………………………………………. 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

2 thoughts on “Seeking Perfection”

  1. The first quote reminded me of something I remember the novelist Harry Crews said. That if a novel sells a lot, its not good or can’t be literature, and as much as I respect Crews as a writer that statement has to be one of the silliest things I’ve read.
    To be honest I feel like that line of thinking, that if something sells a lot of copies that it must not be good, comes from the fact that those types of writers who follow that way of seeing things think the masses are bumbling idiots, therefore anything they like MUST be bad.
    And, partially, I feel its a defense against why their own books don’t sell well. Its not that they write things that many find boring (I’m not saying all ‘literary’ novels are boring of course, many aren’t, but some are too busy navel gazing at how ‘literary’ they are, if you get me) but because the masses are too stupid to recognize ‘real’ art when they see it.

    In regards to perfection, there’s no greater waste of time than trying to chase it. You can ‘polish’ a story until its shiny (or dull as mush, which is what usually happens) and it still won’t fit everyone’s taste, so why bother? Just have fun, write the story you want to tell, do the best you can the first time up at the plate, and once its finished set it free. Then grab a new idea and restart the process.

    • “Just have fun, write the story you want to tell, do the best you can the first time up at the plate, and once its finished set it free. Then grab a new idea and restart the process.” Perfect, Matt.

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