I’ve been a perfectionist all my life. Especially when it comes to art.
In fact, in elementary school, I — an aspiring artist — hated art class.
I loved drawing pictures, making sculptures, and painting to my heart’s content. I hated the fact that I was never given enough time to make my masterpieces “perfect.”
Fast forward about 18 years. I now technically work as a journalist (though we use the generic title of “writer” since we’re not a news-based media organization), have to produce a certain volume of content every weekday, and do not have the time or luxury to spend an entire day “perfecting” one story.
(That’s right — online publishing doesn’t always get everything right the first time, and as problematic as that often is, that’s how it works.)
I am a perfectionist. And my job basically discourages its worst side effects — for me, being taking longer to complete tasks as flawlessly as possible.
A desire for perfection is not all bad. I am more inclined to pay closer attention to small details and catch things others might skim over. I am a more efficient fact-checker because I often have minutes, not hours, to triple-check information.
I’m not perfect. I’ve just been trained to … be less imperfect more effortlessly.
Perfectionism has its advantages when it comes to writing. Attention to detail matters. Having the motivation to persist, refine, and improve is essential.
But sometimes, “being a perfectionist” can hurt much more than it helps. Especially when you’re so worried about something you want to write being imperfect that it stops you from writing altogether.
One of a writer’s biggest barriers is trying to do everything “right” the first time. That’s just not realistic, regardless of the type of writing you’re doing.
If nothing else, remember this: There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. That is why it is called a “draft.”
What matters more than anything else when you are writing a first draft is that you get it done. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a tight deadline or not. You’ll have nothing to work with if you don’t have a complete draft. Spending hours trying to write and rewrite the same two paragraphs will only cause you more stress and misery.
Write first. Perfect later.
Editing as you go is fine … unless it’s slowing you down or stalling you completely.
Thinking ahead to what you can do better or differently is fine … as long as you are constantly moving closer to a finished draft.
You can’t necessarily stop striving for perfection. But you can prevent many of the setbacks that often come with it. It’s not always easy. But the effort is always worth it in the end.
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.