Note: This post is part of a series about advice for writers. All of my advice is based on my experiences, and is offered freely in the hopes that other writers will get something out of it as well. I highly encourage discussion; tell me your ideas, challenges, and suggestions in the comments!
5. Don’t strive for perfection
This might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s something I see in my students, my friends, my husband, and even myself. As someone who loves writing, you probably want the words on the screen to reflect your soul. You want to paint mental images and you want to move your reader. That’s good! You’re supposed to want that.
The thing is, your first draft is going to suck. No, really. It’s going to be uneven and choppy. You’re going to repeat words and phrases. You’re going to write cliches. It’s going to happen.
I called this an addendum to my last post because this desire for ‘just the right words’ often causes that block that won’t let us move on from one scene to the next. However, if you can open your grasp and let go of the need for perfection, you’ll find yourself able to write more freely.
Creative writing requires more than just a few nights of smashing your computer keyboard. Those nights might yield a finished story, but it’s far from a finished work. I guarantee that no matter how precious, how perfect, how amazing your first draft is, if you put it down and come back to it a few weeks later, you’re going to see how much work still remains. This is like getting past the stage in a new romance where you love EVERYTHING about your new beau, and starting to realize he drinks milk from the carton and leaves his dirty underwear on the floor. He’s still the same guy, doing the same things he always did, but some time and perspective have worn away that initial gloss. Your writing is the same way.
Because you’re going to go back and edit everything anyway, it is often folly to worry about achieving just that exact turn of phrase while you’re getting the story out of your head. By all means, jot down your ideas when you have them. Keep a document open just for notes if you fear you’ll forget something later. But if you’re writing your first draft and you find yourself flipping back to thesaurus.com and wikipedia every paragraph, then you’re not focusing on telling the tale. Do research before you start writing, or after you finish, but unless everything hinges on a single thing that you absolutely must know about NOW (hint: this rarely happens), stop looking for the exact word and just write.
Funny enough, this segues into my next topic nicely.
Next post: About Writing: Eliminate Distractions