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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Good, better, best

Back in my corporate days the company “offered” (ie, do it or you’re fired) a profiling test to its managers. After answering questions for a couple of hours, it spit out results that rated you according to key corporate attributes. These differ greatly from your standard “nerd package” of attributes, which usually include variants on Strength, Dexterity and Charisma. Instead, we were assigned a percentage that scored things like Team Leadership, Time Management, and Consensus-building. Like any test, all it really did was rate how good a person was at taking tests. Anyway, whatever your lowest score ended up being, that was where you were supposed to focus your “professional development” energies for the next quarter.
(If reading stuff like “professional development energies” and “consensus-building” don’t give you a case of the cold shivers, you should doubt your sanity.)
My lowest score was Decisiveness. At the time I scoffed. What did that test know, anyway? I can make a decision. But as time has passed, I have begun to see that maybe the All-Knowing Computer had it right. Maybe it was fluke, or maybe the test results have just made me examine my own definition of decisiveness a little more than previously. Regardless, the issue that has really convinced me is doing edits and re-writes.
A novel is completed. I am happy with it. It sits in my virtual shelf for a while. I go back and reread it and discover that a thousand changes “need” to be made. Then the next day I change a passage I just played with the day before, only I change it back to its original text. My definition of perfect is based on factors I don’t even understand. Phases of the moon, brightness of the sun, what I had for breakfast, music I’m listening to, whether I hear a lawn mower or not... who knows what manipulates me into thinking version A is awesome on Monday, but version B is way better on Tuesday.
Sometimes there is an empirical “better.” Most times there is not. It is why I find first drafts so much fun and re-writes so agonizing. If it were just a matter of going through 130 thousand words and picking the best ones for the story, it wouldn’t be great, but it would be achievable. Instead, though, it’s picking ones that are “better” and then changing your mind about what constitutes “better.”
A wise fellow said “A book is never done, only put aside.” How true, how true.
Now back to re-writes. Tell me, is “crimson” or “scarlet” a better word?

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