What Is Good?

I did it. I finished another project, announcing the other day that I moved another story into the bin of yet-to-be-edited projects that I have been amassing these last two years. It is always a good feeling when I put that final pen stroke (or technically that final key stroke) onto the page of any story. It’s a symbol of progress, of moving forward. Unfortunately, however, I tend to freeze at this point. Why else would I have seven projects in review?

Like many writers, I want to write. Editing is an afterthought. It is a necessary evil that awaits our manuscripts like a hungry cheetah awaits the fledgling gazelle. Our story is perfect in its infant state, right? All beautiful and innocent… It doesn’t deserve to be butchered alive by editing.

Truth tells a different story. At the heart of that truth is the question: what is good? And does editing help it?

Good is subjective. What I believe is a good story can be called banal crap by someone else. A thousand different reasons exist to explain why one person would classify a story as good while another would not. It is nearly fruitless to attempt an understanding as to why unless I was studying this for some dissertation in academia. But I am interested in making something that is good to me, not something that is necessarily good to everyone. Do I feel that the work is good? (Imposter syndrome aside.)

From what I can see, a lot of what is considered good in certain areas should check off a number of achievements or characteristics. Are there any errors? Does the plot follow a prescribed pattern? Does the plot make sense? Are descriptions consistent? Written with proper grammar? Plenty more characteristics come and go depending on the item in question.

Editing helps, of course. It’s a way to make sure that what I am writing is checking off said boxes. But just because all the boxes are checked, doesn’t mean that the story is worth a damn. And just because it is worth a damn doesn’t preclude that even any of the boxes are checked. Because of that, I’ve heard and defended both sides of the argument, contradicting myself the whole time.

I’ve done both extremes. My novel, The Good Teacher, was written and rewritten and edited at least nine times. Remember the Yorktown (Gravity 1) was edited far less than that. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I am less satisfied with The Good Teacher than I am with Remember the Yorktown. To me, the latter is a better story, better written, etc. But was it the fact that I edited it to death the reason that The Good Teacher was not as well… good? That depends. It depends on how one defines the damn term. I had more fun with Gravity, but is fun a prerequisite of good?

Every writer likes to tell stories a different way. That is what we call voice. It’s how one would arrange a plot over another, what details that a writer puts in or leaves out, or what they focus on. But our voice does tend to need correcting at times. I’ve seen myself write a sentence that repeats itself. For instance, I tend to like writing “also, in addition to…” as a starter for the sentence, while finishing it off with “as well.” Talk about unneeded repetition, I hit that nail. I also use “just”, “so”, and a few more words a TON. Could be a part of my voice, or it could be noise that should rightfully be edited. Even so, does it say that my work is not good if I do any of those things?

Again, it really depends.

There are so many examples that illustrate about every possible angle one could find on this topic. It’s partly why answering this, much less finding any goddamned guidance on this, is so infuriating.

No matter what I find though, one thing is for certain: I need to edit at LEAST a little. Even if doing so is only to ensure that I am saying what I mean to say. It may be good; it might be terrible. Those are subjective. Either way, editing isn’t necessarily what will help. It doesn’t hurt to try.

If I didn’t need to edit, then why am I holding onto those seven projects?

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