Sixty second writing tips: close enough for jazz?

As a writer I have an abiding annoyance with the phrase ‘that’s close enough for jazz’ – meaning ‘close enough is good enough’.

It isn’t. Not in jazz, which has some of the most precise and complex rhythms known in music. Ever tried to play a piece in ‘Thirteen’? It’s a jazz time signature –5/8 and 4/4 on alternate bars to create the rhythm one-two-one-two-three/one-two-three-four. If you haven’t, try tapping it on your desk. Go on, I double dare you. The first bar and last have to be tapped in the same number of seconds.

The same’s true of writing. Rhythm counts when it comes to word pace and phrasing. So does the selection of the words. Why? Because words are imperfect vehicles to convey the meaning of ideas. And close enough just isn’t good enough if you have a particular meaning in mind.

Precision counts – and time put into getting that precision counts a great deal.

Any thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


15 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: close enough for jazz?

  1. I’d rather toss myself from a building then provide my readers with “good enough.” That demonstrates not good/bad writing as much as disrespect, conceit, and condescension. Of course, since my aim would be to end my life and not simply render myself incapacitated I’d want to make sure it was a very tall building rather then one that was “just high enough.” 🙂

    1. It happens, though – especially in media where there are close deadlines and tight budgets. It’s driven in part by pressure, in part by transience of product – today’s magazine is next week;s landfill – and I’ve seen the attitude leak into other publishing when those who gain the habit of slackness change jobs.

  2. Never heard the expression “close enough for jazz” – go figure, That said, I can’t imagine forsaking the English language for a lazy retread of inappropriately placed expression.

    1. It’s anathema, I think,for most writers. But it happens. One of the issues that causes the ‘near enough is good enough’ issue for writers is deadlines – especially in the media. Daily newspapers are among the worst offenders – and I’ve seen it, too, in people from magazine backgrounds.

  3. One thing I’ve learnt the hard way, though: Don’t strive for this perfection in the first draft. It has the danger of getting you stuck before the end of the first sentence. Now I follow Stephen King’s advice: write the first draft as quickly as possible. Then rewrite until it’s perfect. That’s what works for me, at least.

    1. Works for me too, though I think there is some need to get the structure right first off (planning helps). Actually, I don’t even write a complete first draft necessarily – I’ll plan out what I want to do, then write the skeleton, then go back and add layers. Everybody’ll have a different way of doing this, of course, and it’s all good – what counts is what works for you.

  4. I agree with you that words and pacing are the best things about a book. A song needs a rhythm or it’s nothing more than a poem being read with music in the background. I’m helping a friend with a short story. He has great words, but terrible pacing. I tend to wander with my writing (and talking!), but my editor does a fine job of getting me back on track. Writing is a learning process. I don’t know how long it will take for me to feel that my next book will be “good enough” for publication. Like you said no one is perfect, but I try. 🙂

    1. To me the whole essence of good writing is the attempt, coupled with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Great writers never finish learning, never regard what they do as even remotely adequate. It’s that push to improve that makes the writing so good.

  5. “Close enough for government work” is the one I’m familiar with. I think it’s a more accurate phrase than “Jazz” for the reasons you point out. Jazz is hard to play, period!

    1. I hadn’t heard the phrase about government work, but it figures. Must be a worldwide thing with the public service – we had a sitcom here about our old-style public service that revolved around much the same idea. And there’s the joke about the RAF’s ‘Blue Steel’ missile – it was just like a public servant of the day… didn’t work and couldn’t be fired!

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