Nope, this post has nothing to do with deck chairs, or ships, or even the sea. Why the queer title, then? Well, if you don’t know what this peculiar phrase means, let me explain it to you. (If you do, feel free to skip this little section, you smarties. 😉
Simply put, ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’ is a phrase which refers to a rather pointless task. You could look at it in a negative light and say all the rearranging of the deck chairs couldn’t stop the Titanic from sinking, but I prefer to put a more positive spin on things, and say that you can rearrange the Titanic’s deck chairs all day long and you won’t improve anything, because it can’t be improved by such minimal changes.
See, when you’ve finally got that pesky draft down and have edited it about a hundred million times, you might be surprised just how much you can still find to ‘improve’. That sentence could be different, or maybe if that word was changed…
But stop and look at the bigger picture with me for a minute. Is that one sentence/word/section really so crucial that if you choose the wrong word, your book will go from ‘best-seller’ to ‘total flop’? No! Because the reader cares more about the whole picture. Maybe that one sentence will trip someone up, but unless they’re really picky, it won’t make them drop your book for it. (And if it does, don’t let it get you down. They shouldn’t have picked it up in the first place.)
The other side of this is the fact that everyone has a different opinion. Even the best-selling books get the most horrible reviews, and horrible books get wonderful reviews (*cough* Twilight *cough*). One person may love that you named the character Suzy; another may hate it because they had a bad relationship with a Suzy, or think it’s boring, or just have some weird dislike for the name. The point is, you will never please everyone, and if you’re trying to do that…,just save yourself heartache and stop now, because it won’t happen. And you’ll be much happier too.
But, for the same reason I mentioned above, you don’t have to make your book ‘perfect’ for everyone. Everything and everyone in this world has flaws, but if we really love them, do we love them less for them? No. And guess what? It’s the same with books.
So, ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’ means you’ve gotten to the point where it’s now or never, and you’re really just hesitating to jump, thinking maybe that 3400th revision will just make the book perfect. But the thing is, rearranging deck chairs won’t affect whether the ship will sink or not. The only way to know is to put it out in the water and see how it fares. 🙂
And that’s where the waters get murky. What constitutes success? Selling a million copies? A hundred? One? Are you a failure if you don’t achieve any of these?
No. Writing, like any other creative endeavor, is art. And with all art, the only thing you can ever be sure of is how you feel about your piece. You can’t decide or make others like it, but do you like it? Can you look past any mistakes and say ‘I did good’? Yes, you may be able to improve on some subjective level next time, but are you still satisfied with what you can do?
The problem a lot of writers run into is comparison. Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but just because I’m not a New York Times best-selling author doesn’t mean my book is bad or I’m unsuccessful! Remember: you can only produce art that is good as your ability right now. You don’t look back on your childhood drawings and fuss about how they’re ‘not good enough’, right? No, because you know that was the best you could do at the time. And boy, weren’t you so proud as a five year old displaying your creation for people to see? 🙂
The point is, finishing a book is a step of faith, and you have to learn to recognize when you’re just stalling, being swayed by perfectionism. Put that ship out in the water, and be proud of what you’ve made! Because, if you love your book, there will always be someone else who does too. 🙂 But if you don’t even enjoy your book, you’ll be looking for your validity from the masses, and they just won’t be able to provide it. Only you can decide how you feel about your work, and in the end, if you love it, isn’t that what matters most? 🙂
Unless, of course, you’re writing to make money, in which case…um, good luck to you. Let me know how it goes…cause, you know, very few people can make a living off of writing, and it’s usually a pretty irregular income source anyway. But hey, whatever floats your boat, I guess.
In closing: I’ve found the only way you’ll get satisfaction out of your writing is if you can enjoy it. Look past the flaws and the fact that last year you weren’t as educated in the ways of storytelling as you are now, and just enjoy what you’ve made. And if you can do that, it won’t matter as much whether people love it or hate it.
That, to me, is the definition of success with writing. 🙂 And that is the only success I’ll ever need. If I become a NYT best-selling author, great, but if I don’t, that’s great too. I’m writing books and loving it, and that’s all that really matters. 🙂