When is a writer like a gymnast?

(Originally posted on writealready2017)

When they stick the landing.

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OK…I know…worst punch line ever. But, hey–I never claimed to be a comedienne. And besides–it’s true.

But more on that momentarily.

No matter what your preference as a writer–novel, memoir, essay, poetry–we are all trying to craft the best piece possible. Much like other endeavors (dance, music, art, sports, carpentry—you name it), the desired end product is almost always the result of many alterations and tweaks. But when do you leave well enough alone? I can’t tell you how many writing hours I’ve spent making “last minute” edits and changes, always in search of that impossible state of perfection. The time I’ve taken perusing the thesaurus, just to find that elusive word that sits, mocking me, on the tip of my tongue. The minutes that stretched into hours as I struggled to express a particular feeling as honestly and eloquently as possible.

When is it good enough? When do you stop dithering around and call it a day? So many writers–ones that I admire and ineffectively emulate–give so many different answers to this question…and unfortunately, I do not have a black-and-white answer. I can only speak for myself–and if you know what I’m talking about when I tell you how I know when a piece is done, then you’ll have your own answer.

Now, back to sticking the landing.

I know that my phrase was “sticking the landing,” which would imply that I was comparing the perfect end of a gymnast’s routine to nailing the ending of your work…but, really, I’m talking about “sticking” the whole thing, start to finish–especially the tricky spots, where you’re tempted to–as I said earlier–just leave well enough alone. For me, and probably you, too, I just know when I’ve finally locked down a troublesome patch. It’s a fantastic feeling of relief and revelation–I guess I’d liken it to what’s commonly referred to as an “aha” moment…or, more aptly, an “ahhhh” moment.

Perhaps my analogy is being prompted by the coming Olympic games; the gymnastics competitions have always been my favorite, despite the fact that I find myself holding my breath and clenching anything clenchable as these amazing athletes balance, flip, launch, and fly before my eyes. But, as they perform (Wait…is that the right word? I’d better check the thesau…oh, never mind.), as they complete each element of their routine, you can immediately see it on their faces if they’ve “nailed” it–the excitement and relief are tangible.

That’s the feeling I’m talking about. When you get it just right, when you’ve finally assembled the right combination of words to express what you’re trying to say, something clicks inside, and you know it’s the best it’s going to be. You can, in good conscience, leave it be. I’m sure that for many writers, stopping when it’s “good enough” has worked fine for them–and in the interest of time (or sanity), it may not have been an option to do otherwise. But for me, I know that, if I can just be patient with myself, faithful to my story, and dedicated to getting it right, that “ahhhh” moment will come.

Ahhhh!

Now let’s go write something.