This may come as some surprise, but I was a band nerd. I began my musical “career” at the tender age of 10. I played the flute. I hated it, but I tried hard to be the best I could at it. I tried out for Honor Band three times, and though I was adequate, I never made it.
When I got to junior high, I wanted to change instruments. Unfortunately, my family couldn’t afford to get me a new one so I had to choose between two instruments that the school provided: the French horn, and the tuba. I chose the tuba. Weird decision for a girl, but it was different, it was a big, bulky, loud thing and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! This is also how I met my best friend. She was also a tuba player.
Through the years, we became known as the Terrebonne Twins (the only 2 females in our parish to play the instrument). We marched in parades, heard plenty of bawdy comments (“Hey baby, blow me like you’re blowing that tuba”, etc.), but it never stopped us from playing. We carried our own weight, shouldering our sousaphone for 8 miles, carrying our cases which weighed more than the instrument did. We were awesome, lol.
We both played through high school and into college. It was great. Music was fun. It also taught me a valuable skill: the ability to know when something was good. If you’ve never been in band, it might be more difficult to understand, but when you’re playing and you know everyone’s in tune, everyone’s playing with their heart…you can feel it. Or at least, I could. I would get a little shiver down my spine when we were right on target. It was amazing. Those were the best performances we ever had, and I knew it.
How does this pertain to writing? Well, I measure how good my manuscript is by this telltale shiver. If I don’t feel it, then I know it isn’t my best effort. Oh sure, sometimes I fool myself into thinking it’s good, but when others don’t agree it’s impossible to ignore.
I’m currently rewriting a scene in my second manuscript. The previous attempt was good, but it wasn’t my best. I know it now, because I see how much better the story could be if I changed it around. I haven’t gone over it again yet, but I’m hoping when I do, I feel that little thrill of excitement.
How do you know when what you’ve written is your best effort? Do you wait for feedback from critique partners/beta readers, or do you trust your instincts?