Perfectionism in a writer can be both a curse and a gift. If you’re like me, you have a hard time letting go of a project and moving on to the next step (in my case, preparing my query letter, synospis and pitch). We’re the type of writers who rework and edit to obsession to ensure everything is just right. The other kind of writer hates the editing/rewrite process and has an early rough draft of a lot of manuscripts, but (in all likelihood) none of them developed enough to where they’re ready for publication. Finding a balance between these two can be tricky, and believe me, I’m not there yet. But I see the light; it’s just a matter of getting myself to take the path toward it.
In her blog, Kristen Lamb calls this ‘Learning to Drop the Donkey.’ You can read the full article here, and I recommend you do as it’s an enlightening read. I simply call it knowing when to quit.
For what it’s worth, I have only written one novel (and I’ve only recently completed it). Moreover, while the project took five years, to be fair, I had started the endeavor with the understanding that this was my trial novel—this was the one I was going to learn from. As a result, I scrapped and rewrote it…twice. However, I am meticulous with other things I write, too, and it really digs into my prolificacy as a writer.
The important thing to realize is that you can’t please everyone, and a lot of times reviewers are going to tell you their preference and mask it as fact. Don’t be fooled. One of the most important skills an author/writer can learn is how to tell the difference, and it’s not an easy skill to learn. More on that topic here.
What is an important thing for perfectionist writers to remember is to write the story you would want to read–please yourself. For me, even that’s difficult as I tend to be my toughest critic. But at some point, you need to be able to recognize when a story feels finished, when it feels right.
For those who hate the editing process and don’t like to look at their stories once the first (or first few) drafts are completed, you face a completely different challenge. I have come across many manuscripts where the story concept is great, but the delivery doesn’t do it justice. It isn’t that the writer is without talent; it’s that some work and elbow grease are still in order. With perfecionists, letting go of a project is most intimidating, but for these kinds of writers, revisiting the work is often what’s most intimidating. To these writers, I’d like to throw in two things to think about:
- If you’re proud of your story, then its worth applying the much needed coats of polish. If you really, really loved your car, you wouldn’t be satisfied leaving it with an engine that runs half the time, would you? If you’re not proud of the story, consider whether you want to continue with it at all. If you like the potential, it’s worth revisiting. If you don’t, it might be time to move on to a different project.
- The editing process is a necessary evil for improvement. Identifying patterns of ineffective habits in your writing can help you recognize them when you write your next piece.
Ultimately, Lamb summed it up when she said perfectionism in writing is derived from fear. Additionally, not willing to dive into the editing process is also due to fear. Whichever side of the spectrum you fall upon, challenge yourself to get past your fear; give yourself permission to take a chance.