I’m a big fan of TED talks. In a world where I sometimes watch a shameful amount of cute puppy and cat videos (don’t judge), it sparks my brain to actually think about stuff. I came across this one last week as I was trying to decide what to post about today and the lightbulb went off. Now, specifically, Ms. Saujani is talking about girls and the tech industry (coding in particular), but I think the message applies in a much broader context. It’s well worth watching the full thing. It’s less than 13 minutes. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.
This was very eye opening for me in some ways. Not the idea that girls are hideously outnumbers in the tech industry, but thinking about this idea that girls are raised to be perfect and boys are raised to be brave. In many ways, I am not very girly. I’m brash, outspoken, bold, and I believe I can do anything (we aren’t going to talk about that failed stint in ballet in the fourth grade). I am, by many accounts, fearless. And looking back, I think it’s no mistake that I grew up where the only kids to play with were boys, where my dad had wanted a son and so taught me to do all kinds of traditionally boy things (I could out-shoot most of my male peers in high school. This did nothing to improve my date-ability, but that’s a whole other story). On the rare occasions my mom managed to arrange playdates with other girls, I was BORED OUT OF MY MIND by all the games of “house” and “school” and [insert game to socialize traditional female gender roles]. I wanted to be out with the guys, building bike ramps, playing pirates, doing all the rough and tumble, generally risky things that little boys do. I didn’t always come out unscathed, but I kept up. I didn’t acquire any close girlfriends until 6th grade and on, so during those seriously formative years Saujani talks about…I learned bravery, not perfection.
What does any of this have to do with writing?
Something talked about among writers of both genders all the time is a serious inability to declare something done and just let it go. There’s always that desire to keep tweaking and messing with stuff, trying to dial in that final product to the nth degree closer to our vision. I call this George Lucas Syndrome. He began with Episode IV because the technology in the 70s didn’t allow him to bring to life the rich and varied worlds he envisioned for Episodes I-III. Then, once technology caught up, he began to go back and “fix” parts of the original trilogy. Some of it was innocent enough. Erasing the Vasoline smudge beneath Luke’s land speeder that covered the wheels. Showing Han moving up in the frame as he steps on Jabba, while moving around him in Mos Eisley. But he couldn’t stop there. He had to go and replace poor David Prowse in the end with Hayden Christensen (nevermind the fact that Obiwan and Yoda’s ghosts were exactly as they were when THEY died, aka OLD.). I mean, dude, this is AFTER Prowse learned all the lines and delivered them, only to have them bring in James Earl Jones to do the voiceover work. That’s just RUDE. But I digress. Lucas just kept tweaking and kept tweaking the original trilogy (while also delivering Episodes I-III, in which he clearly went for flash and special effects rather than effectively executed plots–no, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?) until the end results cast a serious pall on the films the fans adored.
Why would Lucas do this? Apart from the fact that he COULD (a danger also faced by those who self-publish, who absolutely have the capability of going in and doing everything from fixing errant typos to overhauling an entire book), I think it came down to this obsession with perfection. In his mind, the movies were flawed and he was rectifying that. He didn’t trust the fans to just support the franchise on its own merits, flaws and all. He wasn’t brave.
I’ve realized that I’m something of an anomaly among writers. I don’t have this obsession with perfection. Now that’s not to say my work is sloppy. It’s not. I have incredibly high standards and I won’t release a book until I believe I’ve made it as good as I can make it. But once it’s out in the wild, other than fixing wonky formatting or catching mistakes that made it through proofreading, I don’t mess with things. I don’t even feel compelled to. Once a book is out of my hands, I’ve already moved on to the next story. And since my production schedule could easily take me into 2030 writing full time, it is to my benefit not to dwell on books already past. It’s not that I’m not afraid of what people think of my work. There’s always that fear that it sucks and people are going to hate it because writing is an intensely personal thing and each book baby sent out into the world for judgment feels like our head on the chopping block. But I figure, I gave it my all at the time I was writing, and that’s all I can do.
So many writers struggle with this. They write and rewrite and reread and rehash and revamp and revise and regurgitate THE SAME BOOK. Yes, revision is an important and necessary part of writing. But there’s a difference between turning your basil into pesto and turning it into the stuff hanging out in a cow’s third stomach. If you keep messing with stuff you run the risk of ruining it (I’m looking at you George Lucas) and of not truly learning anything. You have to be willing to put it out there, let it go, and get some feedback (no matter how harsh that feedback may be). You have to be brave enough to fail so that you can LEARN. Failure teaches so many more lessons than success. Hanging on to something until you think you can get it perfect runs too much risk of it never getting out there at all.
So that’s my challenge to you this round. Be brave with your work instead of perfect. The world will thank you for it. ~Kait Nolan
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