Confession # 7: Perfectionism Doesn’t Help Authors

I am a bit of a perfectionist. And when I say “a bit,” I don’t actually mean “a bit.”

Here’s a fact that I’ve been told, but didn’t really understand what it meant: You’ll never be finished with a piece of writing. Even after it’s been sent to the publisher – even after it’s been on the shelves for many years – you’ll find that you wished you did some things differently.

But the book, in that case, is finished. It’s done, case closed, next book please.

The real question, then, is how do you know when it’s time to send it to the publisher, or if it still needs another revision or two?

You’d think that that would be a simple answer: just keep writing it until you’ve worked out all the plot holes and you’ve got great characterization and your voice is developed and sounds like a real story, then send it right on in! People will love it! Voila, it’s done, case closed, next book please.

Man, I wish.

The truth of the matter is, this novel is your darling. You’ve spent months, if not years, hunkered down in a room or office or what-have-you, typing away and not letting anyone see it. You want it to be perfect before you show it to anyone. You want it to be worth their time.

Unfortunately, when you stare at a thing too long, all you see is its mistakes.

I would know. I’ve spent a good two and a half years on my novel, so far. This is how I’ve seen my drafts:

Draft 1 – Well, I’m going to try my hardest, but the main thing is to get the plot down. I can make it sound better in the next draft.

Draft 2 – I need to fix the plot up a bit, now that I know such-and-such. It still sounds like crap, but I’ll make it sound superb in my final draft.

Draft 3 – Oh, this so won’t be my final draft. It still needs something, but I don’t know what. Next draft will be my last one.

Draft 4 – Ha ha, nope. Keep writing; this can be so much better!

And so on. You can’t exactly decide when it’s perfect enough, simply because perfect is a subjective term. Even “good enough” is not quantifiable. So all you want to do is keep writing and writing and writing, because you’re under the assumption that you’ll just know when it’s ready.

The only real fix for this problem, that I can see, is to iron out the plot holes as best as you can and to give it your best efforts, and when you’re feeling like you really should just write another draft (or, better yet, just throw the whole thing in the trash, because then life would be so much simpler, wouldn’t it?) go to someone who’ll give you an honest opinion. Ask them to read it, to make comments, and to not worry about hurting your feelings. (Yes, you may want them to be gentle, but your book needs them to be harsh, and as terrible as it sounds, the only really important thing in this scenario is your book.)

This fresh pair of eyes will be able to tell you if you missed anything, or if they think it’s good enough. If it is, and you’ve got others who are willing to read and make comments, then let them. Make the proper adjustments, then turn it into a professional editor and let them have at it. With both the opinions of your average reader as well as the opinions of a professional, you’ll know that this is as good as it’s going to get.

Personally, I’m about to start draft 4 of Book 1, and I’m not sure if it’ll be ready for people to read and make comments on. There are still scenes that I’ll be writing from scratch, which means they might not sound up-to-par with the rest of my seemingly-mediocre writing. But I’m going to let them anyway, because maybe the story really is better than I thought. Fresh eyes are the key.


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