I Am A Perfectionist. Here’s How I Learned to Write Imperfectly.

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It’s not so bad, being a perfectionist. It makes editing a lot easier (which is good, because I do a lot of it) and I can trust myself to be able to get things done and get them done well (even if it sometimes takes a little longer). I’m not afraid to ask “dumb” questions if it means I’m going to get something right the first time. I’m not even all that hard on myself when I do make mistakes, because I’ve trained myself to treat each one as a learning experience.

Perfectionism is only an issue in one area of my life: writing. Which is rather unfortunate since, as you probably already know, I write a lot. Often.

There are a lot of writing-related situations I find myself in quite frequently that require writing a lot in a short amount of time. Reporting. NaNoWriMo. Daily blogging (are you sick of me yet?). Trying to write the perfect story, the perfect chapter, the perfect blog post … it takes more time than I have. Or it would, if that’s what I tried to do.

Over time I’ve learned how to banish my perfectionism to a corner whenever I’m writing. Here’s how I figured it out, and how you can, too.

Journaling by hand

I am a big advocate for using a journal to refine your writing skills. I scribble a few pages in a notebook with an actual pen every day, not just for my own sanity, but to train myself to write without going back to fix mistakes. I AM A PERFECTIONIST, and that makes me a little iffy about scratching out words on paper. So I don’t.

If I make a mistake, I just keep going. It’s also a stream-of-consciousness, pouring-out-my-thoughts-as-they-come experience. If I stopped to fix an error, I’d break the flow and honestly, probably forget what I was about to write in the middle of writing it.

Writing things out on paper is a completely different experience than typing them out on a computer or tablet. It is a completely different way of thinking and processing ideas. When you’re that deep in thought, you don’t even notice grammar or spelling errors, etcetera, and that’s a good thing.

A need for feedback

I am a millennial. And really all that means for our purposes is that I need feedback on my work or I don’t know what to do with myself. This is a major reason why I don’t spend more time than I need to on an article, assignment or even a blog post (I do spend a lot of time on these, but I could probably spend a lot more and you wouldn’t know the difference).

If I spend twice as long on an article before submitting it to my editor for review, it’s likely I’m not going to get quite as thorough feedback. I’ve learned from experience that the fewer edits an editor has to make, the less in-depth their critique is. It’s an automatic thing: editors don’t do that on purpose. If I submit something “perfect,” I’m not going to get the feedback I need. And that’s a problem.

Now, I’m not saying you should publish or submit sloppy work. Don’t do that! But don’t obsess over the same piece of writing just to get it perfect. It’s not worth it. Make it good, but don’t worry about things needing to be fixed later. An editor needs something to do, after all.

Focusing on quantity

This might appear to go against everything I’ve ever said about doing quality work over quantity. But I’ve formulated a bit of a hypothesis, and I’m going to share it with you right now.

What’s better: one perfect piece of writing or three good pieces? I say three good pieces. Why? Because I don’t write to be perfect and I don’t believe perfect writing is necessarily better writing. I would rather be able to spend my time writing three good articles instead of one outstanding one. The more often you train yourself to write good material in less time, the better material you will produce.

This is why tight deadlines are when I put out my best work. If you have less time to get something done, you’re not going to waste time obsessing over every little detail. Therefore, the more you practice writing this way, the better you’ll get at writing in general. At least I believe so, anyway.

When it comes to writing, perfectionism is overrated. It takes a long time to keep such an obsessive mindset out of your head when writing, but it is possible. Practice. Be patient. Write often. Write on!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Diary of an Ecstatic Problem Creator

Another early Sunday morning. Another 2,000 words.

I’ve been jumping all over the place this morning, from reading for my English class to writing for fun (because for some reason, I just make time to do that on occasion) straight to analyzing a diet history and planning a mod nutrition counseling session …. and now I’m sitting on my butt writing again (this post) before sprinting over to the rec center when it opens at noon. Oh, and eating about half a box of granola bars. Yep.

Unfortunately, in those 2,000 words I cranked out earlier, Callie and Austin have not gotten any closer to ending their “thing” (whatever it is – I don’t think either of them are quite sure), and Ben and Callie have yet to settle their daily disputes over nothing. In fact, Callie informed me as I typed, Ben is now sleeping on the couch and she’s afraid to go home. So go figure.

Callie and Ashley did have a close run-in, however, which was silent and awkward and full of all sorts of tension. Lovely.

I’m not writing fantasy, and the thing with realistic fiction is that you can’t just have someone jump out of a window when there’s a knock at the door (well, you could, but if you like that character, that’s probably not the best option for your story). So when Callie’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock, and Austin went to answer it, I realized mid-sentence that Becky, one of my favorite characters, was about to find out about their secret. And I really did not want that to happen. So I thought: should she hide under the desk? No, she’s a grown woman, about to get her Ph.D., much more mature than that. Besides, Austin is about to move offices and this one is therefore mostly empty. Now what? Hide behind the door? Forget logic and jump out the window despite potential (fatal) consequences?

Well, since Callie is one of the narrators, she can’t die. When I hit 17,000, Becky was about to approach Callie about what she’d walked into. So tomorrow will be an entertaining writing spree.

I’m probably not doing anything other than confusing you by talking about a book you’ll never read, instead of making you want to read a book that has an x percent chance of getting published in the next 10 years. So I’ll lay off the specifics. Back to my original point – realistic occurrences. In my books, they happen on every page. People fight, people cry (probably more than they should) and oh, there are happy moments too. I’m not that mean to my characters.

It’s all about finding that balance between realistic and entertaining. Sometimes life is boring. We don’t need to summarize someone’s entire morning routine unless it’s about to be permanently disrupted as part of a significant plot point; we shouldn’t have to feel like we have to describe a couple’s typical means of expressing their affection for one another unless it’s the consistent pattern of the relationship that’s causing it to crumble.

Here’s what I hope to resolve before November 30: (1) Ben and Callie’s misunderstanding of each others’ grief, (2) Ashley and (name yet to be determined)’s relationship, (3) Austin and Callie’s understanding that Ashley is a catalyst in their relationship but that the relationship does not have to be (shouldn’t be) a romantic one, and (4) some sort of confrontation between Ashley and Callie in the present, which will be problematic, because the present only covers one day in this novel, and so far in the present Callie is not ready to visit Ashley.

So what needs to happen before all these resolutions occur?

More writing. Duh.

Love&hugs, Meg<3