This subject is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. So I won’t do that, but there is an answer to the question that won’t spark a major fight among the resident and neatly aligned hardbacks.
The best thing I’ve ever written is the work I haven’t done yet.
The comment that writing is a craft is not news to most of us. We all start with the blank page, write the first line, morph into the days of gibberish, the slaughter of our darlings, and the final D at “the end” to get a final product upon which the editor will eventually cast a smile. And like most other crafts, writing is commonly prone to error, hiccups, quirky little authorial mannerisms, and the occasional brilliance. Even the acknowledged geniuses of literature fall victim to imperfections. If a certain soulless perfection is the goal, find a machine to do it.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not a “things were better back in my day” type nor am I a flat-earther. Some things are just better done in an assembly plant. Cars come to mind. But craft done by someone who really cares about the art owns a beauty, emits a joy, and offers a complexity that no machine can match. Craft thrives on imperfection, and it should. Assembly plants thrive on exact duplication, as they ought.
What craft offers writers is the excitement of striving toward the perfection we may never achieve but which we find joy in desiring. Editing is like ripping out half the sweater because of a bad stitch. Trying a new technique or point of view stretches our creative muscle. Even if our effort fails, we never fail to learn. Again, like a knitter, perhaps we need to use a different size needle or tweak something else. Then the technique may not only work, it may become our signature style.
The other important aspect of craft is that our excitement transmits to the reader. How many times has a reader lost interest in a long series? That often happens if the writer is bored. But if you write each book with the enthusiasm of writing the first book, you have a fighting chance of avoiding that.
So I look at each new book with the hope that I can fix some failures in my craft, pick up an exciting plot idea or character or technique, and maybe, just maybe, write the best book of my life.
And if I ever do achieve that, I hope I don’t realize it so I can continue striving to learn and perfect my craft to the best of my ability.