The writer Joan Didion and her late husband John Gregory Dunne had an expression for when a work was successful. They asked each other: Did the author “get it right?”
The line jumped out at me, for that is my measure as well and the only question that matters.
The language, the structure, the content, the message, the point, the moral, if there is one, the color, feel, smell, taste and texture of a thing, the arc of the narrative, beginnings, middles, and ends, the details, the rhythm, the resonance, the opening line—did I get it right?
If it isn’t right—if it’s hollow, or stupid, or naïve, or clumsy, or misguided, or annoying, or just plain wrong—I will undertake as many revisions as are required to fix it.
The most amount of time I have spent on a single line at a single sitting? 45 minutes.
The most I have scrapped at one time? 425 pages—twice.
But getting it right is the entire point of a day’s labor. If I succeed, I can at the least offer a reader a bit of clarity in a complicated world. If I don’t succeed, I just add to the noise.