I subscribe to “Writer’s Digest” magazine – the actual paper, snail mail magazine – and was thumbing through it this morning while I waited for my coffee to brew. Before I get to my point here, I would just say I highly recommend subscribing to it. Tons of information and inspiration in every issue.
The short article I read this morning is called “Why Perfection Is Imperfect” and is actually an excerpt from the book “Shut Your Monkey” by Danny Gregory (affiliate link to buy on the right).
It spoke of two main problems with perfectionism: failing to start and fiddling.
I suffer from both at times, as do a lot of writers I think. We want out stories to turn out a certain way, and we get so hung up on that perfect story, that perfect outcome, that we are scared to jump in and start writing. Maybe we get blocked because we don’t think we have enough writing skills to actually do justice to the story or to get to that perfect conclusion. Maybe we actually don’t.
That really doesn’t matter though. What matters is forward motion. If you’re standing on the edge of a chasm and the only way across is a rickety rope bridge, you can stand there and imagine reaching the other side all you want, but thinking about it is not going to help you escape the bad guys running up behind you with guns. I think this was in an Indiana Jones movie.
Writing is very rarely a matter or life and death, however, so writing something that’s not so great is not going to kill you. Also, unlike when you’re halfway across a rope bridge and the main line begins to unravel, you can always fix your fiction as you go or after you get that first draft down.
Failure to start at all makes perfection impossible anyway. We’re writers. We write by definition.
If you can get started without TOO much trouble, excessive fiddling is another perfectionism problem that can stymie writers. We all know first drafts are allowed to be crap (Thank you, Ernest Hemingway.) One of the most difficult things is deciding when your baby is ready to face the world. At some point, you have to say, “Enough is enough,” and kick it out to sink or swim on its own.
In the article, Gregory says that, “Perfection isn’t natural. It can be constipated and inert.” And this is true, I find. I fully accept I’m not perfect, but I still find the idea of reaching the other side of the writing rope bridge in a blaze of glory and great critical reviews blocking me from forging forward over the scary and unsure bits.