Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist (post by Anna)
Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist
Or, My Adventures in Writing Faster
September 18, 2015Every professional writer has written to a deadline—often pushing right up to the second when that article or rewrite is due in the editor’s hands. This is an external deadline, though, something over which the author has little or no control. What happens when a writer sets a self-inflicted deadline?
Well, I can’t speak for all writers, but many I know would flake on their self-imposed deadlines. They’d come up with a bajillion excuses because, without the pressure of meeting a contractual time limit, they just won’t do it. Genuine reasons for missing a deadline can happen, but most writers miss deadlines simply because they don’t feel enough pressure to meet it. These thoughts pushed me to run an experiment with myself. I determined to write 20,000 words—a complete story—in five days.
In the past, I’ve suffered from perfectionism. I wanted each page to be perfect before I moved on to the next—in the first draft! Writers can easily fall into this trap, and you may even read so-called experts who advise this approach. Trouble is, these days, to earn a living as a writer you must produce more than one “masterpiece” every five years. We must write more and faster. This doesn’t mean writing crappy. It means finishing a first draft faster, so you can polish it up in editing. It means changing your mindset.
I gave up perfectionism cold turkey last year. I vowed to write something every day, even if it’s five words, and to work on writing faster. I wrote the first draft of my upcoming novel Fired Up, a finalist in the Emerald City Opener contest, in about a month. But for my five-day writing challenge, I didn’t just say “maybe I can write 20,000 words,” I determined I would write 20,000 words.
Last Monday I sat down at my computer and began the challenge. I suffered the occasional, momentary relapse of perfectionism—ooh, I’ve gotta fix that misspelled word right now!—but overall, I’d freed myself from that cage by allowing mistakes. I put every lesson I’ve learned in the past year to the test, and realized the number-one lesson to take away from my challenge.
The first draft not only doesn’t need to be perfect, it shouldn’t be perfect.
Editing exists for just this reason. By allowing the first draft to be imperfect, or perhaps even to suck, we avoid procrastination. We toss out the window the old “I’ve gotta finish a whole outline and character profiles and a dump-truck-worth of research before I can even think about writing that first word” excuse. I kept writing, hour after hour, even when I got tired or my neck hurt or my cat threw up on the carpet beside my chair. I shut off my e-mail. I took no calls. I just wrote.
I pushed through every perfectionist inclination, and would’ve finished my story on Friday—but life had other ideas, as it often does. I spent most of Friday in the emergency room, thanks to a debilitating migraine and dehydration brought on by severe nausea. Medical issues have become an ongoing battle for me, but Friday ranks among the worst days I’ve had. I came home with doctor’s orders to rest over the weekend. Still, this Monday morning, I plopped my butt down in that chair and wrote those last 3,228 words to finish the story in five days.
Thanks to kicking my perfectionist habit, this year (my best ever, writing wise) I’ve completed three novels, two novellas, and one short story. The latter, an erotic romance, was recently contracted by the Wild Rose Press and two of the novels have won and/or finaled in multiple contests. So much for the “writing fast means writing bad” notion.
Write fast, write slow, plot the hell out of the story, or pants it all the way. Whatever road a writer chooses to travel down, we must remember the most important lesson of all.
The sole qualification for being a writer is to write.
P.S. This article went through two drafts before becoming a full-fledged post for you to read. I wrote, I edited, I conquered, finishing this post in just under half an hour. The timeframe includes several minutes of trying to come up with a title for it!