If I asked you to describe “the perfect story,” what would you say?
Could you even come up with an answer?
Maybe. Maybe not.
If you’re here to learn what a perfect story is, and how to write one, I have what I hope is a fairly straightforward strategy for you to follow.
It’s simple, really.
All you have to do is sit down.
Spend 2-3 months trying to come up with a story idea no one else has thought of before.
Spend the next 6 months researching every small detail so your first draft doesn’t need fact-checking.
Spend 2 years writing and rewriting the same first chapter until it’s just right.
Spend the next 3 decades trying to make that first draft spotless.
And the decades that follow, well, you just have to spend them wondering if your story is even good enough to show to other people.
Yeah. That’s probably not going to happen.
Because guess what? It’s not possible.
You can’t write “the perfect story.” There is no such thing.
Every single story ever told has flaws. And just because one person doesn’t mind them being there doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
You can’t spend your whole life trying to write the perfect first draft. You will never finish it.
And if by some miracle you do, the moment you or someone else finds something “wrong” with it, you’ll spiral into an endless obsession with trying to “fix” it.
You can’t fix something that is not broken.
Your story is not broken. It is a story. If it’s a first draft, sure, there might be some things you don’t like, or your editor tells you to do something over. Welcome to writing! This is how it works.
A “good book” is not a perfect book. It is good. Ask me my three favorite books, and I can tell you something that bothers me about each of them.
Don’t listen to anyone who says an imperfect story isn’t worth reading, or writing. I honestly don’t know when we started expecting storytellers to be perfect, but it really needs to stop.
You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to do your best. And improve your best work.
If trying to write a perfect story stops you from writing, it’s not worth it. The perfectionism part, I mean. You’re letting something so trivial hold you back. Why? Because you’re worried about getting criticized? Then why are you writing a story you want to show to other people? Criticism is part of the game. Not everyone is going to like your stories. Is that really such a bad thing?
When you are writing a first draft, all that matters is that you’re telling the best story you can tell, the best way you know how to tell it, right now. Improvements come later. Criticism comes later. Right now, it’s just you, and your unfinished story, alone.
Finish it. No matter how imperfect. It’s very freeing. And pretty amazing, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.