I’m Obsessed with Writing the Perfect Novel

Have you ever felt this way?

This blog started out, and is sometimes still wrongfully categorized, as a creative writing blog. Its purpose in the beginning was to chronicle my life as an aspiring writer. And while I still use my experiences and passion to drive and inspire the content I create here, it’s definitely changed drastically to align with my status as a writer of all types of things — not just books.

So I’m assuming those of you who have been around for more than a year — if you’re still here — have been wondering why I don’t talk about my novel writing adventures as much as I used to.

Well, for one thing, this is no longer a blog in the more traditional sense — it’s not essentially a public diary about my life. I’m the voice you come to ‘listen’ to, but it’s about what I can do for you, not what I can say about myself. Mostly.

For another, I haven’t stopped writing about creative writing completely. It’s a type of writing I enjoy, after all. But I’ve scaled back significantly on those topics in the past year or so.

The truth is, I’m writing less about fiction because I’m writing less fiction. And the reason I’m writing less fiction is because I’m a perfectionist, and it’s absolutely ruining my noveling progress.

My brain is on a mission to write the perfect novel, even though no such thing exists.

There is no such thing as a perfect novel — especially not within the first draft of writing a book. I know that. But part of me can’t help but let my drafts’ imperfections slow me down.

It’s not that I spend all my writing time self-editing as I write. Quite the opposite, actually. Sometimes it feels almost as if I write knowing I’m not doing my best, just to get it over with. I find myself desperately wanting to finish writing another book, even though I dread having to go back and rewrite parts of it later that aren’t publishable.

And yet, how do we know certain things aren’t good enough the first time around? Sure, a novel needs at least a few rounds of revisions before queries. But I’m way too hard on myself — yet my awareness of that fact does not stop me from thinking, “I could be doing this so much better.”

Every bad round of dialogue, every weak plot point, every plot hole, every forced plot twist — it makes me not want to do this anymore. Rather, it makes me wish I could just stop trying to finish these fatally flawed books and start over.

I’m too stubborn to do that, of course. I want to finish what I started.

I’ve been reading more fiction than I’ve been writing, and each book seems to subconsciously teach me more about what I’m doing wrong in my own fiction. The unfinished novel I’m chipping away at now, I started writing in November 2015. At this point, I’m tired of it. I would have done so many things differently if I’d started writing it in 2017. I have about 10,000 words left before I can call the first draft ‘done,’ yet I can’t stand how imperfect it feels.

I already have so many new ideas for the book I want to start writing in November, to celebrate my last NaNoWriMo. I want to do an outline first. I want to do character sketches. I want to start with nothing and end with something I’m proud of. Yet I’m not sure if I can do that if I don’t finish these two previous novels first.

If that’s what I really want to do, I know I have to accept that they’re not going to be as good as I once hoped they would be. That’s not going to be easy. But I’ve learned so much in the past two years, and I can’t forget how important that is. I’m bored and anxious because, in many ways, I’ve moved on. I could start these stories over, try again. But I don’t want to.

Never let the idea that you have to write something perfectly the first time, or ever, keep you from finishing what you start. You’re learning, you’re growing, but you also deserve the satisfaction of accomplishing your goals. Are there instances when not finishing a book is completely acceptable? Of course. If you absolutely hate it, drop it; you won’t miss it. But don’t worry about doing everything right. Everyone has to write at least one terrible novel before they start to figure out how to write a better one next time.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

8 thoughts on “I’m Obsessed with Writing the Perfect Novel

  1. I almost feel like a fraud, when I tell people I write novels; they ask, how many have you written?
    And I pause, and I have to confess, I consider none of them ‘finished’.
    There is one, I have written start to finish – I’ve written it start to finish four times now.
    But no, it’s not ‘finished’. In fact, it being the first book I ever wrote and having been set aside for at least four years now, I know it needs at least another three or four rounds. In fact, I more or less intend to fully rewrite it.
    So yes, I suppose I too am a perfectionist and I know exactly how you feel. A writing project that takes too long, that finishes when you are a different writer than when you started, is a troublesome project indeed.
    My advice, honestly, is to move on. Dont throw it out, dont deem it a failure – it isn’t.
    You need a break. Start your new project and leave this one on a shelf for a while. When you are tired and bored to death of a project, you absolutely cannot do it justice.
    I honestly thought I was done with my first project. I thought I’d made so many passes at it, and I was such a different person to when I started, that I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t finish it, edit it, couldnt look at it.
    And thus, it has sat in a dark corner, with the occasional nostalgic glance, for something like four years now.
    Guess what? When I finish my current WIP, my main priority, I finally feel able to go back and truly do it justice.

    Dont lose hope, dont force yourself through it. Take a break. I promise you, one day – be it months or years down the line – you will find yourself eager to revisit it, and in the mean time, you can work on what you are truly inspired by.

    1. This is such great advice! You’re amazing! :) Perfect for everyone who also has a bad habit of trying to work on too many projects all at the same time … ooooops.

      1. Ahahaha, thats me too!! My plot list is something like 40 books long – some partially written, some untouched, some 3/4 of the way through.
        In the past two years i put ALL of them on hold bar 3 (and then i added one more, naughty) and now I have one main WIP with the other 3 there fr when i need a break from my psychological mindfck book

  2. Hahaha i hear that sometimes; when i say ’40’ people eyes get pretty big xD
    Truth is, I may not be able to name them all on the spot but if I pull up my document that purely lists the working title for them all, i could tell you the concept / plot for every last one of them , even though there are a few…. odd ones I dont think il ever actually write. It’s all there, swirling in my brain.
    It can be somewhat troublesome at times

    1. Wow. That is so cool! But I can totally understand that could be a little overwhelming haha. I really feel like it’s either a person has 500 ideas or 0, is there an in-between? Who knows! hahaha.

  3. I related to this. I’m sorry for going back so far and commenting on something of this age, but it stuck with me. I’m terrified it’s not good enough and it stops me from finishing. It means that I just around from wip to wip without nailing one of them. Frustratingly I think I’m a better rewriter than I am writer so if I would simply put aside the fear of it ever being good enough, I could finish it.

    1. No one has ever written anything close to a perfect first draft. Just remember that. Your first draft, maybe even your second and third draft, is not going to be good. All you can do is finish one layer at a time. You can’t work on making it better if you don’t have all the material to work with. :)

Compose your words of wisdom

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s