best books and best books

Well, that’s it. I’m done with the revisions on Midnight Never Come, and I must say I’m rather pleased with the state of the book. Which sparked me to ponder the difference between “the best book it can be” and “the best book I can write.”

Most of what I do is the former. This is the latter.

Let me put it in metaphorical terms first. You know that height is determined by both genetics and nutrition, right? As in, your genes allow for you to be a range of possible heights, but your nutrition will determine where in that range you fall. (Broadly speaking. I need the metaphor, not the biological specifics.) Well, most of the time what I’m doing is feeding my books all the nutrition (effort) I can give them, so they reach their full potential in terms of growth (or rather, quality.)

I think of it this way because my ideas tend to come out of my subconscious, and are inflexible to a certain degree. They are what they are, and if I care about them enough I will write them, but that doesn’t guarantee that every one is a groundbreaking new leap forward in my skill. There will always be some development — I never want to coast — but I can’t necessarily take an idea that’s capable of being five foot nine and make it six foot just because. I make them the best books they can be, given the ideas they’re built on. If there are flaws, weak points, it’s a problem in the foundation; the only way I can do better is to write a different book.

Midnight Never Come has eaten everything I’ve thrown at it, and asked for more. I can’t feed it enough to make it hit its full potential. It is the fourteen-year-old-boy of novels.

It’s close to being as good as it can be. I can tell. There are very few places in the book where I look at it and think, man, that could punch the reader just a little bit harder — but there are a few. And those places exist, not because I haven’t put in the effort to fix them, not because the foundational ideas aren’t strong enough, but because I simply don’t have it in me to squeeze out those last few drops of awesome. This not quite the best book it is capable of being, but it is the best book I am capable of writing.

When I wrote Warrior and Witch (to pick one example), I deliberately tried to work on a bigger political canvas. That was the major challenge of that book. This book? The political canvas got bigger again. And there are more pieces on my mental chessboard. And the embroidery of its description and style is more intricate. And a whole lot of other metaphors I could toss in there, which boil down to: I’m pushing myself everywhere. I can’t think of a single major aspect of the book that isn’t bigger and better than what I’ve tried before.

You could say, shouldn’t that be true of every book? In theory. But the truth of the matter is, my brain doesn’t cough up ideas that advanced on a regular basis. Most of them push me on one front; some push me on more. Which is fine, really, because working selectively on different aspects of my writing make leaps like this one possible. If I sat around waiting only for the truly record-breaking ideas, I’d never come up with them, or be capable of tackling them if I did.

But it’s odd to look at a book and think, this truly is the best I can do. And not have it be a negative statement (c’mon, is that the best you got? pfff), but a positive one.

<ponders> I’m not sure this post conveys what’s in my head. It feels like this reflects badly on most of the other books I’ve written, and I don’t mean for it to do that. I promise, I don’t slack on any of them.

Maybe what I should say is: most of my books are the best I can do with my ideas, while this book is the best my ideas can do with me.

0 Responses to “best books and best books”

  1. mrissa

    This makes sense to me.

    The musical analogy I’d make is this: a dance tune has different potential than a symphony. Both are good things to have. Both are works of art and worthy of respect. But the dance tune cannot be made into a symphony with time and effort and fiddling, and vice versa — and there’s a lot more time and effort that can go into the details of a symphony just because of the length/breadth of it.

  2. Anonymous

    Don’t neglect the limiting factor of language. While genetics and nutrition might determine height, the physics of human physiology determines the carrying capacities of bones and such. Language is a limited tool and can only be used so well.

  3. ratmmjess


    Writing the best book that you’re capable of is no small thing, and you should feel very good about that.

  4. sora_blue

    That is a brilliant last line.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s the product of rambling about what I’m trying to say for several paragraphs, and then going, “oh. Or I could just put it like this.” <g>

      • sora_blue

        It happens sometimes, but I find it’s more of rambling for several paragraphs only to discover “oh, that was what I was trying to say.”

  5. unforth

    First off, I don’t think it reflects negatively, I think it demonstrates and understanding of something all experienced readers already know: novelists get better. The prime example I use for this is R.A. Salvatore. Crystal Shard is an okay adventure book, but it’s not much else – in many regards it’s frighteningly bad. His later books steadily improve. Now, this is not to say I found Doppelganger or Warrior and Witch bad, not in the least, but is to say that, in truth, I wouldn’t have high hopes for your future as a writer if you weren’t improving – so it’s great to hear that you think you are!

    Second off, congratulations!! Way to get the edit finished! I slightly blows my mind that you’ve finished and sent off and then edited and sent off again a completed novel when I’m still plugging away at my manuscript started at about the same time. 🙂 I know, I know, it’s a stupid comparison, but still. 😉

    Third off, the book sounds AWESOME. I can’t wait to read it! When is it coming out, approximately?

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