Making It Good Enough

Nathan Bransford recently asked: How do you know when your novel is done? The trick, I think, is not to make it perfect, but to know when it's good enough.

When I was a programmer, I was taught that you can accomplish 80% of a task with 20% of the work, but the remaining 20% of the task (i.e. trying to make it perfect) will take another 80% of work. Once you've hit 80% of perfection, each percent after that is harder to earn. This is true of any creative task, I think.

The real trick is knowing there is no 100%. You can't write the perfect book, but you can write the best book possible at your current level. Once you've done that, you need to put that book down and write another book, a better book, at your new current level.

Some authors are good at this. You can tell by reading their backlist and seeing how they've improved. I don't know any authors who are bad at this, but I am going to pick on one example of what not to do: George Lucas.

Lucas has made at least two major revisions to the original trilogy since they were first released 30 years ago. Whether you like the revisions or not, they made a lot of people very angry. Why? Because the originals were good enough.

The big lesson here, of course, is not to change something that's been released to the public. Once it's out there, it's no longer yours. But even for those of us who haven't released anything, there's an important lesson: Move On. It will make you a better writer.


Unknown Blogger said...

what were the two revisions? The Han/Gredo who shot first was 1. What's the other?

Adam Heine said...

He's done lots of minor revisions with each video release (updated sound effects, cleaner special effects, etc.), but the two major revisions were the Special Edition theater release in 1997 and the DVD release in 2004.

So in 1977, Han shot first. In 1997, Greedo shot first. In 2004, they shoot almost at the same time (though Greedo is still first by a fraction).

Some other changes in 2004: He put Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor in ESB (when Vader talks to him via holo) and changed the dialogue to mention Anakin Skywalker. He changed the ghosts at the end of ROTJ so that old-man Anakin is gone and replaced with teen Anakin from Episode 3.

Natalie Whipple said...

I like how you explain it. I used to think I knew when my book was done...after revising it 3 more times after agent feedback, I'm not sure so I do. lol.

But I do feel like I'm very close now—I'm at this point that if I changed anything major the entire story would be completely different. There's literally nothing else I can do. It's weird.

Unknown Blogger said...

Thanks for the info on what changed. I hadn't seen the 2004 videos.
The Greedo thing drives me crazy because (IMHO) there are 2 options:
1 - Han shoots 1st
2 - Han's dead (no way Greedo misses from point blank)

Interesting about the reference to Anakin & the change to teen Anakin at the end of ROTJ.

Hi to Cindy!