Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which I Try Not to Be a Perfectionist

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a perfectionist. I’m one of those people that would interrupt an important meeting just to straighten the crooked picture on the wall. When I see a wrinkle in my comforter on my bed I drop everything I’m doing to smooth it out. Just now I reached up to straighten my slightly askew lampshade. Yeah, I’m one of those people. So you can imagine what it’s like for me to try to write a book.

Right now I’m well into a story that I’m thoroughly enjoying writing, but there’s still so many things just niggling at my mind that so desperately want to be fixed. I need to soon start working my way towards the story’s finale and yet I feel like the story has hardly begun. I keep thinking of scenes I should have added or parts that really have no need to be there. I see paragraphs that I know should be rewritten. Sentences I don’t like. Words that should be changed. Grammar that needs tweaking. On and on and on my perfectionist brain goes. It has that incessant need to make everything, well, perfect. No room for error.

But then I remember something.

First drafts supposed to be messy.

Keep Calm and Write Something

I’m learning (and reminded myself daily over and over again) that when writing a story the first draft is basically jotting all your ideas down. I don’t have this story plotted out, so naturally the first draft would come out a little all over the place. I’m learning the story as I go, I’m discovering it, exploring all the little details that I never knew before. That’s what you do with first drafts, that’s their entire purpose. To explore the story and see what happens.

It’s after the first draft is completely written that the perfectionists in us, those inner editors, can be let loose. Once the first draft is done then we tackle all the problems and perfect them. But there can be nothing to perfect if the first draft is not first written.

So I’m forcing myself to forget all the many problems of the story. As tempting as it is to just start over and try to make it better, I’m not going to allow myself that. Right now is the time to just lean back and let the tale take me on a wild ride, wherever it leads, even if it means pushing away common sense and proper grammar. All the rewriting and editing comes once the first draft is finished. And I’m learning editing isn't quite as scary as I always feared. So even if I have to rewrite the whole thing, that’s okay. I just need to enjoy this first draft.

But, however much I talk about it, that horrible perfectionist in me is constantly trying to get out. So today I think I’m going to stuff my Perfectionist Side in a box and mail it to China. There it can build up and be ready to explode when the time for editing arrives.

Cardboard Box

I’m going to enjoy writing the rest of this story, no matter how it turns out. Because I’m learning that if the first draft isn’t messy, then something’s wrong.


  1. I know just what you mean! Granted, I'm not a true perfectionist, but I know the feeling you get when you just want your writing to be *perfect* and you feel it has to be perfect the first time around. I started writing that way, and then realized I had to come up with a new philosophy as I couldn't get past two chapters. To echo you, first drafts don't have to be perfect. They just have to be there. You can't write when you're trying to be perfect because the perfectionist in you won't let you write anything at all. I've learned it's best just to let yourself write, and then you can put the perfect in later, after the story is down and longer than two chapters. :)

    1. Exactly! You're so right about the perfectionist side not letting you write. It really won't. It just has to be put away during the first draft. I suppose it's a good thing to want to make your story perfect, but not when it's holding you back.

  2. Yes! I know exactly what you are talking about! I think of myself as a perfectionist, although not to the degree you mentioned... Writing a story is harder than you think, right? There have been many times I write and write then read and re-read, and be so satisfied with how the story is progressing, while at other times I do the same thing and end up depressed, wondering if it will ever come to a decent end. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, I agree with you wholeheartedly that the first draft does NOT need to be perfect, and am so relieved. =] It is when you begin the second draft that the hard work begins...

    Thanks for sharing! I loved your comment about stuffing your perfectionist side in a box and "shipping it to China." ;D

    1. That makes perfect sense because that's exactly how I feel! Some stories just flow so well and then others love to be stubborn for some reason and get me discouraged.

      Yes, thank goodness the first draft doesn't have to be perfect!

      Tehe. Thank you. I need to ship that pesky thing off for a while. ;)


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