What's the hurry?
There seems to be a perception out there that we need to Get Published As Quickly And Often As Possible To Prove Our Value Or Worth Or...Something...As Writers. And yes, I've capped all those words for a reason. (There's always a reason.) It's because important things are always capped, doncha know. And I honestly think that this underlying assumption/operating principle/belief/perception is believed to be so Important (!!) that it leads to the situation I was decrying so much earlier--which is people publishing their stories or books, basically, before they're really ready.
In other words, rushing material into the marketplace the minute it's "done"--when taking a little more time and patience would have helped it get "done" better.
Where does this hurry come from?
I once heard a motivational tape that talked about "hurry sickness," the translation of what was supposedly a Japanese term for the way Americans rush about so quickly trying to multitask and the like. Putting aside whether or not the Japanese have any room to talk when it comes to work habits or ethics (pot, meet kettle), the term has become an apt way to describe the frantic way many people work. Unfortunately, that frantic attitude has even seeped into the arts...and it shows up in artists trying to spring themselves upon the public when they're not quite "there" yet.
Now, before anyone gets their shorts in a knot again about any perceived "slight" you could draw from the above, let me say one crucial thing: an artist generally knows, in his/her heart of hearts, when the work "ain't quite there."
Ignace Paderewski, a famed concert pianist of an earlier era, is supposed to have said, "If I don't practice one day, I know it; if I don't practice for two days, the critics know it; and if I don't practice for three days, the public knows it." Most of us, of course, would deny being able to tell if a brilliant pianist simply "hadn't practiced" for three days...but the point is well taken that most of us know, in that still small place within, when we're "not quite there."
This instinct is different from the nagging feeling that one isn't doing good work, that one isn't really talented, et al. Those feelings stem from fear, and they are inaccurate the majority of the time. The sense I'm talking about isn't negative, in that it's not self-deprecation or self-doubt. If anything, it's the opposite of that; it's a genuine humility that recognizes both our strengths and our present weaknesses. And it's darn near infallible, if we listen to it.
Problem is, a lot gets in the way of that listening.
Most of what gets in the way is well-meaning: encouragement from critique partners, family, friends, or writers' groups--or even a "public" who may read a bit of what we do and think it's just the "bee's knees." One the other hand, the other side of what gets in the way, ironically, is that earlier nagging feeling that we're just not very good, what we're doing isn't very good, or we don't really have much talent. Both of these sources of "input" can drown out our inner voice--and the results manifest themselves in two opposite scenarios. In one, the author never lets her work out for anyone to see it because it's never "good enough yet." In the other, she puts it out there too soon, because "it's better than a lot of other stuff out there."
But "better than a lot of other stuff out there" isn't the reason to put your stuff in the marketplace. Why not?
First off, because that's a purely subjective--and, let's face it, hopeful--assessment of where you are rather than a clear and rational one. It may well be true, but it's just as likely to be only half-true, or only true in certain aspects and genres...or out-and-out false.
Second--and this is more important--because comparing your work to anyone else's out there, for better or worse, is not a good measurement of whether it's ready to go out of your hands yet.
There's a huge difference between being just "better than other stuff" and being "the best you can physically do at this point in time." If you've ever experienced the latter, you know this is true. If you haven't...you may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But fortunately, the solution is simple.
Yes, listen to your crit partners. Listen to editors who read your work. Listen to contest judges. Listen to your friends and family babbling about how good you are. Listen to all of it...and then get quiet and let it percolate. Or, as I'm fond of saying, mull a bit.
And then a bit more.
And then even more.
And then see if you can go a little deeper, make it a little sharper, and make it go where it maybe never went before--maybe where you're not sure even you know how to go yet.
But don't stop at "as good as what's out there."
Don't even stop at "better than what's out there."
Make it so good it makes your blood surge and your heart sing.
You know the difference. Or you will know soon, once you start practicing that deep listening that is the only true judge of when something's really ready...versus when you've decided it "should be" ready or is "good enough."
Because "good enough"...never really is.
You know that, in your heart of hearts.
But it takes patience to deliberately let the work develop to its full potential before you turn it loose.
How do we learn that patience?
I'll share some thoughts on that in Part Two.