Only hearing the flaws

Among the late, great Harry Chapin’s best songs* was “Mr. Tanner**.” At the urging of family and friends, an amateur singer risks everything to perform. It does not go particularly well.

The song includes the line “He did not know how well his sang, he only heard the flaws.” I’ve been thinking about that line recently, as part of reviewing some of my writing. Whereas shrugging off bad reviews is simple (even if my default is “f*ck ’em if they don’t get it”), hearing my own flaws as a writer is brutal. I DO get what I’m trying to say and can’t hide behind a simple “f*ck ’em” when I am the one sitting in my own head.

So what’s to do? On the one hand, revising is a critical tool, but then there’s the trap of “just one more round of revisions” becoming an endless cycle where nothing is ever truly complete. One of the good things about my Day Job are the inflexible deadlines – I have to accept “good enough” and get it out the door, even if sometimes the words could be polished further. The most compelling proposal in the world is going to get rejected if it is received after the deadline…. my team’s motto is “Get it Right, Get it Done, Get it GONE.”

On the other hand, a “great is the enemy of good” philosophy can drive sloppy work. I have revisited stories after I have sent them out – heck, even after they’ve been published – and realized how much better I could do if I only tried one more round of polishing.

I’ve talked here (scroll down to read below if you’re just joining us…) about the need to give a story my best shot and then let it marinate in its little folder for a few days before I take one more pass at it. I’m still working on the timeline. I might need to build a week in, as by that time the words have mostly sifted out of my brain and I can look with slightly fresh eyes. Stay tuned to see if that works – I am trying to write ahead of several known calls for submission and if I get far enough ahead for that extra week I will try it and report back!

*One of the best live albums of all time was his “Greatest Stories Live”; fight me.


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