One of the major things that hold back an author is the pursuit of perfection.
It’s so easy to get trapped into this line of thinking. So easy that I’m not sure I’m completely out of its grasps yet (as a reformed perfectionist writer), but I’ve certainly come a long ways since I began writing.
As a young writer, I was afraid to share anything I’d written with someone unless I’d revised it about eight million times and was confident that it was so strong it would hold up to any criticism. And while the effort I put into revision was not bad, in the past I would hold off on posting any work because it was not perfect. (As a current editor and critiquer, I love it when people have obviously polished their work before putting it out anywhere to be critiqued.)
The truth was: it was never perfect, and it took a long time to be good enough. Not to mention how I told myself that I could always do better, just to soften the blow when critiques came back (which also undermined my efforts mentally).
But one of the dangerous things about perfectionism, is that when your “perfect” scene or story is criticized, and often rightly so, you may not be able to continue working to improve it or part with it later.
Seeking perfection creates an illusion in your head that sets you up for failure:
1. Your work will never be good enough to share with others.
2. When you do share it with others, and they don’t find your work flawless, you suffer a hit to your esteem that makes it difficult to try again. You may just give up.
3. Perfectionists take (much) longer on a project than necessary, by deeming it “not yet ready.”
4. Perfectionism breeds fear of failure and inadequacy in yourself and others.
5. Creates such high standards for yourself that no one else will ever live up to them either, and you will be constantly disappointed by any other book you read or write.
Revision is another form of writing, but it feels more permanent than a first draft.
We revise with the idea of other people reading our work afterward, and when we reach the end of our edits, parting with our novel (or short story) to entrust another with it can be like baring a part of your soul to them.
Don’t seek perfection. Seek the best you can do.
When you’re a perfectionist, it’s like every time you put your best work out there (anytime you put work out there period, because it always has to be your best), and someone says something unkind, or even kindly critical, a little bit of your soul is bruised. Enough bruises and you don’t even want to try anymore. You want to give up.
Well, I’m here, telling you, that you shouldn’t. Because that means you’ve let the bruises turn into a break.
No work of art is perfect. But if it’s good enough, we look past any imperfections we may have found in our love for it.
So focus on writing a story that is as good as you can make it, not perfect. Because no one can make a perfect story.