Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When is it good enough? By Scott Nicholson Author Guest Post

Writers are insane. 

We all accept this, based on the evidence of history, from Hemingway’s head (or lack thereof) to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium dreams, Sylvia Plath’s suicidal prose, Emily Dickinson’s cloistered yearnings, and Jonathan Franzen’s dissing of Oprah. The surprise is that writers who have a right to be crazy, such as Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, often seem the most grounded.

I think it’s because writers never really finish a work, and never turn out something that’s good enough. It always falls short of perfection, or even their flawed vision of what it should have been. Even for dummies like me, who never know the ending until we write it (and sometimes even after we write it), there’s a sense that we could have done better. The worst writers are those who think they are good writers.

Some revise until they grind the feeling out of the story. A couple of novels I wrote to be “liked” and “popular” turned out to be kind of liked. Nice books. They sort of sell okay and people generally read them and are okay with them. And those are books that I revised too heavily. I polished and polished until every cranky, sharp facet had been removed. They don’t have any grown-up cuss words. And they never make people angry. I took the “Scott” out.

But a book that royally pisses people off is worth its weight in gold. And it’s actually pretty decent publicity. I’m out of the business of reading my reviews for the most part, but I am always drawn to the “one-star” reviews that so many writers dread. I love them. That doesn’t mean I want to be one-starred to oblivion, but often I can see where a story touched a nerve.

My favorite books, both mine and those of others, tend to be either ones or fives. I have read some cookie-cutter bestsellers where the author was clearly punching the clock and putting the series hero through the paces for another quarter million bucks. Yawn. Empty calories, like potato chips. But these days such books don’t get five minutes of my time, because I know where I’ll end up—six hours of my life gone and nothing added.

Dean Koontz, both highly polished and highly predictable, has been one of my favorite authors, and he’s known for revising one page over and over, dozens of times, before heading to the next, using no outline. Now, he’s clearly OCD in all ways, and he’s “fortunate,” I suppose, that his obsession is writing and his compulsion is rewriting. It’s earned him millions of fans. But I would like him a lot better if he slipped up once in a while, if he dangled a participle or let the damned dog die for a change. He’s too perfect, his heroes too good for the world in which I live, his libertarian views too resolute. Maybe in his old age he’ll crack a little and put out something that will change the world.

Some writers are the opposite. King could easily be edited 40 percent. If you read the uncut version of “The Stand,” you get little additional impact for the extra hours of your life. But he’s so gifted that even his waste material is entertaining. He could have cut out the waste and had an extra novel or two.

My biggest danger is editing to make something more “commercial,” under some misguided notion of a marketplace. This is the market of dreams. It doesn’t even know what it wants until it shows up.

Part of that danger is my fault for reading too much writing- and publishing-industry advice, until I’m as insane as all the other writers out there. You learn, “Be the same, but different.” My most successful novels, and the ones that arouse people the most, were written in a vacuum—The Red Church, from back when I didn’t know what I was doing and thus had no expectations of what  a novel should be; Disintegration, written as self-inflicted punishment and healing, and never intended for publication; and As I Die Lying, which I did revise many times but each time kept making it less typical.

Maybe writers are better off writing great novels and putting them in a trunk for discovery after death. Then they don’t have to worry about either editing or selling. But what do I know? I’m insane.
This week’s Scott special is Disintegration, 99 cents for a limited time.

Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels, including the thrillers Speed Dating with the Dead, As I Die Lying, Drummer Boy, Forever Never Ends, The Skull RingBurial to Follow, and They Hunger. His revised novels for the U.K. Kindle are Creative Spirit, Troubled, and Solom. He’s also written four comic series, six screenplays, and more than 60 short stories. His story collections include Ashes, The First, Murdermouth: Zombie Bits, and Flowers

To be eligible for the Kindle DX or Kindle 3, simply post a comment below with contact info. Feel free to debate and discuss the topic, but you will only be entered once per blog. Visit all the blogs on the tour and increase your odds. I’m also giving away a Kindle 3 through the tour newsletter and a Pandora’s Box of free e-books to a follower of “hauntedcomputer” on Twitter. Thanks for playing. Complete details at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/blogtour.htm


  1. Great post, Scott! I would be one of those people who edited my writing to death, thinking that it was never good enough.

    the_happy_soul @ yahoo.com

  2. Reading this post makes me wish the library would hurry up and tell me that one of your books is waiting for me! :-)

    Email address is in blogger profile

  3. Ahh, to "Be the same but different".

    The only thing I am is "different".

    authorjcphelps @yahoo.com

  4. I have been trying to train myself to stop revising while I write and wait till after it's done. I don't feel like I can get the full picture of the book until I can read the whole thing, so I can't very well edit the story until it's finished. Otherwise, my writing sounds sort of choppy. Then again, that could just be my writer crazy talking. Great post!


  5. Amen, Brother Scott! varbonoff22 at cox dot net

  6. Great post, and I did like what you had to say about editing.

    blodeuedd1 at gmail dot com

  7. Great post Scott!


  8. Hmmm, I never thought of writers being insane for the reasons you state, but I do think you have to be insane to think of some of the things they write about. Inventive ways to kill, weird crazy habits, etc. If you make me say "I never would have imagined that!" then I think you've done a great job, and you're crazy.


  9. Thanks for the chance to win!

    kt1969 at comcast dot net

  10. Scott, great post as always.
    Count me in for the Kindle!

  11. I for one think you are insane, or should I say a gifted writer. :-)


  12. That's one of my biggest problems when I write--I'm too OCD and want everything to be perfect. And I know it won't, so that gets me pretty frustrated.


  13. Great post...maybe the editing factor is what makes posthumous publishing so great...although it oftens bothers me that we value something or someone more, after death...maybe it all just comes down to the editing!

    Thanks again...

  14. Great post, Scott, very informative for all us non-writers.

    caity_mack at yahoo dot com

  15. hufflepuffgrl13@yahoo.com

  16. I've been away from your blog tour a little while, so I'm glad to be back! I didn't stop reading my reviews, but now I kind of laugh at the one star ones and grin at the five star ones. I agree that King's worst work is still entertaining. To me, the most important thing about a book is the entertainment value. If it kept me reading and not wanting to put it down, it's getting five stars from me whether it's perfect or not.


  17. I'd say striving for perfection on a novel is completely normal.

    I too drive myself insane when I re-read, re-do, revise, re-read my Uni essays.

    There comes a point when you have to say enough! You could spend days/weeks/forever going around in circles!


  18. I understand - and mostly agree - with what you're saying, but sometimes - as the reader - it's comforting to read something predictable. Sometimes, we just want something for entertainment. We know how the journey is going to end (and that's a comfort), we just want to see how the author gets us there.

  19. Great Post!

    monacart32 at hotmail dot com

  20. Another interesting post. I've definitely finished reading a book seriously pissed off that I wasted my time.


  21. I definately agree writers are crazy - my old univesity lecturer was at his most mad mid book write - barely knew how to dress himself on those days

  22. It took years and years of training and exhortation from some of my fellow librarians but I don't hang around a book that I can't read or bores me to death. Life is too short and I have too much to read.

    So, I have a question: if there are books of yours that have been so edited that all the life has flown out of them, do you intend to revise or drop back to an earlier draft when you get the rights back? Are there any such books already in your possession that you've reworked? Am I spilling the beans for tomorrow's blog post?

    Thanks for the contest,
    Greg "The Undead Rat" Fisher

    theundeadrat (@) gmail (.) com

  23. Interesting post.

    kissinoak at frontier dot com

  24. Please enter me
    bkhabel at gmail dot com

  25. I've led a pretty insane life. Most people would look at me and never ever guess I lived most of it and if it weren't for proof, most still would not believe.
    I have yet to write about because I fear all the things you write about. Plus, I have no idea where to start...lol.
    Thanks for another great blog entry!

    nedsped at verizon dot net

  26. But potato chips are delicious! Sometimes it's good to indulge in predictable, empty writing because it's enjoyable.
    Anyway, I did enjoy your guest post, Scott! It was interesting to learn about different editing methods.

    - Lauren

  27. Great read. I'd love to be entered to win also ....Tiffypoot @ (aol.com)

  28. I am in agreement with Riva. I like predictable endings at times. My wife says that Hallmark movies are so predictable but I like them. It's how they get to the ending that I like or don't like. I'm willing to see. And what is more predictable than a book you've already read or a movie that you have already seen? There are many of each that I like to watch again or share with others, just to see their reactions or so we can talk about them. I get great pleasure from the "turn of phrase" or circumstance, even when I know it's coming. I know there are plenty of people who have the same affliction. We would sometimes go to see the crowds lining up to see "Rocky Horror Picture Show" again. I also remember counting down the agonizingly slow minutes before watching "The Wizard of Oz," or a holiday show with Charlie Brown when I was young and before video tapes and CD's. I'm not sure how many times that I've read "A Christmas Carol" and "Anne of Green Gables," etc.

    I agree with Greg "the undead rat" in that I want to know what revisions we can expect from you once you get the rights back on the books that you would like to sprinkle liberally with some "Scott."

    I mentioned a lot earlier this book recently released for Kindle (started out as a freebie!)- "Who Is Mark Twain? is a collection of twenty six wickedly funny, thought-provoking essays by Samuel Langhorne Clemens—aka Mark Twain—none of which have ever been published before, and all of which are completely contemporary, amazingly relevant, and gut-bustingly hilarious." That is the Product Description at Amazon. He did in fact\have lots of stuff that he wrote and put a hold on the materials until 100 years after his death. He was very popular when he was alive, of course, and the introduction of the book tells much of his reasoning when putting his drafts for famous works and essays aside for the future. This is a book that is near the top of my To Be Read list. There are so many! (and so little time!)

    You won't make us wait 100 years, will you Scott?

    Seems like I should just say the "nice post Scott" or "Please enter me" and be done with it, so I can read, rake leaves, wash clothes, vacuum the carpets, eat, spit, ad infinitum. Just can't shut up! Sorry.

    Jeff White.... whitejw@ameritech.net

    P.S. So Christa's back in the country and though she probably will not be back to read this, I downloaded her "Love of a Stonemason" which is also on my ever growing TBR list.

  29. "Maybe writers are better off writing great novels and putting them in a trunk for discovery after death. Then they don’t have to worry about either editing or selling. But what do I know? I’m insane."
    Well, I'd say that's a pretty sane statement for someone as insane as you claim to be.
    And you did list your best novels (in my humble opinion): The Red Church, Disintegration, As I Die Lying

  30. great post! Thanks!


  31. And here I am of the opinion that Stephen King could stand to cut quite a bit of some of his books and they wouldn't lose any entertainment value. Might even gain some as I don't have to slog through the crap. :-P
    teawench at gmail dot com

  32. Another nice stop on your tour.

    Nadine stacypilot at yahoo dot com

  33. You make me think of when I tried to learn oil painting, and overworked them until everything was muddy and dull. I like the question someone else ask - are there books you will unpolish to a version you like better?


  34. Enter me please!


  35. Another great post.

    jlynettes @ hotmail . com

  36. Try writing in a language that's not your primary language! You'd be constantly revising as you write, attempting to look "fluent" in that language. I face that all the times when I'm doing a composition as English is not my primary language. So much easier to just read.

    Enjoyed your post. :)

    conrad.jd (at) gmail (dot) com

  37. most of my reviews are 3-5 because i tend to pick books i expect to like. rarely do i give 1-2. those are the hardest to write as i want the writer to know why i didn't like the book without attacking the writer. one lady i gave a good review to (we had become chatters) wrote me to ask me to read a review she had gotten...it was quite negative and mostly about the writer and less about the writing. but the rest of the reviews were mostly high. i told her it was one negative out of many positives. i suggested she reread it for book comments to see if she could find any reality and blow off anything personal. i find negative reviews hard to write. but i have to admit i have wanted to tell a writer instead of writing about a real person during a time of yellow jack in no, he should have used fictional people and what they faced with yellow jack as i felt he did a great dishonor to the real person but a great job on the yellow jack who should have been the main character but i didn't. i tried to make it gentler and also expressed that i must be the lone reader as ALL the other reviews i read were most positive. i did a lot of research on the main character, there was such good material about the man. i even talked to my 91 yo mom to see if i was was way of base about the times and the nature of people. she agreed with me. so finally i wrote it as honestly and gently as possible.
    do you have any suggestions on how to write a negative review that is helpful to a writer? spvaughan@yahoo.com

  38. This is hands down the best author guest post I have ever read before- hates off to you! Can't wait to check out your books!


  39. Another great post... and after you talking so much about a few of your books, I'm wondering where a book like "The Farm" fits into your backlist now that you've had separation from it with other works?

    Oh, and I am begging for a Kindle... no shame...

    Armand Rosamilia


    "Highway To Hell" extreme zombie novella from Armand Rosamilia


  40. Please enter me
    cjwallace43 at gmail dot com

  41. Great post!!! :)


  42. Great post, you always think you can make it better. Done is done. Need a deadline so you know when you're done.


  43. Great post!
    chey127 at hotmail dot com

  44. I like this brand of craziness :)


  45. I always give up when editing. Nothing is good enough for me. It's hard finding the perfect medium.

    candace_redinger at yahoo dot com

  46. thanks for another great post!!

  47. Another great post. Thanks for sharing!

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  48. P.S. So Christa's back in the country and though she probably will not be back to read this, I downloaded her "Love of a Stonemason" which is also on my ever growing TBR list.

    Hi Jeff, no I'm still overseas and yes, I just read your message. THANKS A BUNCH and I hope you like the book!

  49. wow, I really liked that post and agree with you. S.K. is one of my favorites, but he has cranked out a few that could have been short stories. But like you said, he is a fantastic writer.

  50. Revisions. Ugh. The main thing that bugs me about them is that a little time away from the story always reveals some niggling detail that leaves a hole in the script--one I should have seen from the get-go. Ah well, at least I haven't killed a story worth keeping around because of stuff like that.


  51. I would LOVE a Kindle DX. Thanks for the opportunity to win one! :)

    P.S. Click on my name for my contact info. ;)

  52. Great post.


  53. I've given a few 1 star reviews and some 2 star reviews. Did they touch a nerve? Maybe? Sometimes I have returned to a book and found something new and thought I'd like to edit what I wrote.

    However; my reviews are a snapshot in time and I leave them alone.

    Its like the Indiana Jones' grail, you have to know when to let it go.


  54. I do take notice of the ratings of books, but will read it even if it doesn't get a good review.
    Even if I don't care for a books it usually makes for a good discussion.


  55. A-ha! HERE is yesterday's post. I'm one of the "Inner Circle" people (or, as I call us, the "Circle Jerks") and I got the link for yesterday's post in the email TODAY. The Inner Circle emails always seem to come a day late (unless I'm part of the OUTER Inner Circle and getting them late is on purpose?). So how did EVERYONE else get here BEFORE me...especially since the link on your website (how I usually navigate your blog tour) was messed up??? Hmmm...

    "Even for dummies like me ... there’s a sense that we could have done better."

    Phew! I'm glad you realize it... or are, at least, getting a "sense" of it. You would have made a great librarian---or an outstanding garbage man...but you chose a different path. That's okay. We all make mistakes. Eddie Murphy probably regrets making "The Adventures of Pluto Nash", I wish I had gotten my "crap" together much earlier in life, and that woman you keep in the pit in your basement you claim is your wife probably wishes she had just stayed home and done her laundry instead of going to the mall and getting abducted by you instead--mistakes happen!

    Oh---but (my bad) I think you were talking about your writing/books. And how they may have been "better"? Uh... I plead the Fifth.

    "I am always drawn to the 'one-star' reviews that so many writers dread. I love them."

    Yes, You would be drawn to the one-star reviews. One star is better than no stars, so your attraction to those one-starred reviews is perfectly understandable. Remember when you used to look at the Penthouse Forum section for one-starred reviews of your sexual prowess...but no one ever bothered to write in? One-starred reviews are like living through a train wreck---not only can people NOT look away, since you were in it, it can also be very painful (but then, you always were a masochist I hear...).

    While I don't think I've ever left you a one-starred review...or even a two-star one. Jinkies! There actually might be a three- (or MORE) starred review of some of your books out there that you can run home and hang on your refrigerator! Zowie!

    Blah! Blah! Blah! I am soooo tired this morning. Why am i here anyway? This blog tour stop was soooo yesterday!


  56. Excellent post Scott. I find it hard to know when I've edited enough or not enough. Part of that, I believe, is that I don't like editing. I like the creation process - when each scene is shiny and new. Going back over each scene to edit it takes the fun and excitment away.

    calseeor (at) gmail (dot) com

  57. I am a reader most definately not a writer. Although I did have dreams of that once...sigh... I really like getting the author point of view..... I.Pearson@comcast.net

  58. I wonder about authors and the hidden stuff that becomes discovered once they pass away (J.D. Salinger). kristiedonelson(at)gmail(dot)com

  59. "Maybe writers are better off writing great novels and putting them in a trunk for discovery after death. Then they don’t have to worry about either editing or selling."

    You know...you might be on to something!

    Tracey D
    booklover0226 at gmail dot com

  60. Hi Scott, I am still following.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot

  61. I am just as guilty as most writers. Always editing, to the point of overkill, that I end up making silly mistakes.


  62. I think this endless need for polishing probably keeps any number of people from ever submitting their scripts to publishers - they never think they are good enough.

    As to Stephen King - he needs a good editor, badly.

  63. I just wrote a super long comment for you was in the process of editing it when my computer crashed and there away it went!

    Is that the life of an author?

    Interesting post - I guess its the balance of over editing a really good book or under editing a really bad book.

    melanie.sanderson@btopenworld.com or via tvted.livejournal.com

  64. What a fantastic post, Scott! You really hit on the angst of being a writer on several levels. I can really identify with everything you said.


  65. Awesome post!! Really need to read something by him :)

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  66. @Barbara Keep bugging your library! "Scott Nicholson, Scott Nicholson, Scott Nicholson..."

    @lizz yes I think it's better to just buzz through the story and then worry about it

    @ Rive yeah just like when I watch an action movie I just turn off my brain

    @Sandy yes it's just words on paper that people reject or criticize, not the person. I always doubt the critic instead of doubting my own creative vision

    Amelanie yes we will one day all be out of print when our computers crash

    BTW I've started a weekly writer chat at my blog http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com if anyone ever wants to swing in and ask a question or stir up discussion


  67. I've left a few one and two star reviews on Amazon, but not because I didn't like where the book went or because it hit a nerve. The low reviews I've left were for things like too many typos and misspellings, point of view problems (one book shifted from 1st to 3rd person on the same page.. frequently), and plot/character inconsistencies. I can handle most stories and I'm fine with where the author wants to take it, but at least run spell checker and attempt to fix obvious problems before you upload the book to sell, you know?

    On that note, thank you Scott, for your ever-vigilant revisions. I get that it's a fine line for you knowing when to stop, but I can't tell you how appreciative I am to read such high-caliber work from an indie writer.


  68. No! You can never kill off the dog! Not man's best friend. If Einstein had died, Watchers would have withered.


  69. I agree! I also must admit that when I hear about a book that's really pissed someone off it just makes me want to read it.
    Count me in for the Kindle!

  70. this is official entry for AP Fuchs, who couldn't get his post to stick

    Stefanie, yes, I've revised several of my Kindle books AFTER they were published. Now I have a pretty good system in place for publishing cleanly.

    @Bev Yes you can. And cats, much easier!

    @emily yeah great books are divisive


  71. Great post! Yet something more that all of us writers deal with. I'm glad it isn't the end of the tour like I thought. I thought I missed something. Keep up the good work.

    Wakincade AT gmail DOT com

  72. Love the post!!=)

    I think any sane person- no matter the profession will always be left thinking they could have done better. Yes, we do deserve pats on our backs for a fine job done but there is always more to be done, right? Well, I think so.

    As for books like potato chips. Empty calories? I love empty calories. LOL! I can admit it. But mostly I know the key elements in which I like to read. If reading the blurb and reviews I dont see the main key elements I will not read it- cookie cutter read or not. The writing industry is so vast that finding titles in which titillate each and everyone's fancy is possible.

    Also, I think you're on to something with trunking great novels. Everything seems to be worth more after death then before. Then it become a legacy! The only problem is the writer would reap no reward but at least his children would.

    Again, I loved this post. Very interesting to read.

  73. Hope your Having a Great e-Tour.

  74. "I have read some cookie-cutter bestsellers where the author was clearly punching the clock and putting the series hero through the paces for another quarter million bucks. Yawn."

    I second that yawn and move to ad a snore.

    Great post, Scott. Touched a nerve.

  75. There's a lot of formulaic writers on the bestseller lists. Sometimes readers--as has been said by other commentators--are just looking for a book with the type of characters and the ending they know they enjoy...

    Still, a lot of us thrive on something completely new!

    jamesemr (at) gmail (dot) com

  76. I like books that surprise me and I like books that take me exactly where I know they will. It's according to what's going on in my life at that particular time, my energy level, and what type of book I need to get me through. I love to read but sometimes I need the cozy or romance as opposed to the intense.

  77. Different is good! :)

    inannajourney at gmail dot com

  78. Thanks!
    Emily ebdye1(at)gmail(dot)com

  79. I totally agree, there's something to say about imperfection, it's gives the book some flavor.
    hmhenderson AT yahoo DOT com

  80. Another interesting post.


  81. Another great post. I like hearing about the writing side to books. Thanks for the giveaway!

  82. Too funny! I can see where being an author can make one a bit loopy! I follow a lot of author blogs and I get to see what they're up to and revising seems to be something they're always doing.

    The need to want things to be perfect would bug me but some times you just have to let it go. :)

    thecozyreader @ gmail.com

  83. oh yes, i am a rewriter, too. although due to blogging and family life, i've had to try and let some of that go...
    hancoci_s at msn dot com

  84. Great stop for the tour Scott!

    purposedrivenlife4you at gmail dot com

  85. Liked this stop! Great blog tour.

    dreamer dot ima at gmail dot com

  86. Thanks for the lovely post! :)
    You can reach me at luvpinkpanther@gmail.com

  87. Crazy is just like the rest of us.


  88. VERY interesting post! And yes, still following.. lol


  89. Disintegration sounds great.
    dorcontest at gmail dot com

  90. Keep up the good work!!
    Hoping for a the Kindle!! :o)

  91. Hmmm. I think we're all crazy to some extent lol

    Following with interest still :)

    bookwormreviewed at gmail dot com

  92. I like to think of writers like artists. They never feel like it's ever really done. They always think that they should make some changes or when they feel like they can't work on it any more, they move onto the next and look back on it later on down the road and make changes then. This is when others say that they love it and feel that your finished. LOL

    jessangil at gmail dot com


  93. I have to say, Scott, some of these posts contain some really great writing advice! In fact, I may come back to this one and print it out. I'll have to remember not to be too OCD or over zealous when editing mine. Thanks!


  94. Great post, it's interesting to see what goes on in the mind of you 'crazy' authors.
    Gail in Florida
    cowgirl3000 AT gmail DOT com

  95. 96 entries! Hooray, thanks and good luck. Hope all you artist/readers have a happy Thanksgiving!


  96. I love this blog entry!
    And I would love to be entered into the contest!

    Thanks a bunch!


Thanks for commenting! I ❤ comments!