I think there’s a tendency for some writers to fall into the mindset that a good story has to have All The Things. Unique and nuanced three-dimensional characters, a completely immersive setting, a structurally flawless plot and pristine prose that conveys a distinct and memorable authorial voice. While it’s good to achieve a basic level of competence in all those things, I think it’s important to remember that no story can deliver everything.

Some of that is pure logic–a story generally can’t have both a snappy, page-turning plot and leisurely pages of vivid description, so a choice has to be made. But also, readers don’t necessarily need perfection in everything. They can’t pay attention to everything. And even the best and most popular books draw in readers by being very good in one or two areas, even if they aren’t necessarily strong in others. Tolkien is praised for his vivid worldbuilding even if some people don’t like his prose styling. People love Austen’s characters and wit even if she tells us next to nothing about her setting. And so on and so forth. I know that there are certain authors I read for their characters or for their masterful prose, and I don’t really care if the other areas are neglected because they’re not what I came for. And they rank among my favorite books not because they’re great at everything, but that they’re really great at that one specific thing.

It’s okay to have strengths. Maybe you focus a lot of energy on intricate characterization while your descriptions tend toward minimalism. It’s fine–readers might fall in love with your characters and not mind that their imaginations have to fill in a few extra setting details. Maybe pacing a plot is child’s play while styling a beautiful sentence feels like pulling teeth. That’s alright, too–readers may be so busy turning pages that they don’t mind your purely functional prose. But if you’re spending time agonizing over all the things at once, you may not be able to reach brilliance in any of the areas.

While it’s good to learn the craft and improve your writing, reaching for perfection can be paralyzing. It can lead to endless reading of articles and books about writing, while no actual stories are written. So I’m thinking this limited approach can help. Rather than trying to be the author who writes a Great Book, think about being an author who’s great at a certain part of writing. And the rest might not matter as much as you’d feared.

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