Let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve got a brilliant idea for a story. So you sit down to write it, excited about what a great story it could become when you suddenly freeze up. You start out with a sentence or two, maybe even several paragraphs only to delete it and try again. While we hear the advice, “don’t make it perfect your first time through,” it’s not always that simple. I usually have to stop and ask myself to know if that is in fact what I’m doing. It’s a question I now consciously ask myself every time I sit down to write.
For the last few years I have been working on a series of short stories I publish under a pen name. At the beginning, I was in the zone hammering out great content one after the other. With each story, my work was better than the last. I wasn’t the only one to notice either. A reader even commented that it was so cool that the stories just kept getting better. That was a huge ego boost for sure. Unfortunately for my writing however, continually outdoing myself was getting to be exhausting. I was definitely no longer in the zone and began psyching myself out about the series. I constantly started to worry if what I was writing was a good enough follow up. At this point, anything less that perfect was not acceptable to me.
Sure enough, that follow up remained unwritten for months. I would think about it from time to time, sometimes even write out the first few paragraphs, but I never felt as though it was good enough. I told myself I was getting tired of the idea, the characters, or the story, but in reality I was just trying too hard to make it perfect. I must have had at least 5 separate ideas for the direction I could take the story and I now wish I had written them all. Surely having 5 to choose from would be better than none. I mean, what better way to make something perfect than picking and choosing between 5 different endings for a series? If only I hadn’t been so caught up trying to make the story perfect, I’d probably have a better follow up and ultimately a better ending to the story than the one I came up with.
The reality is, it’s fine to pursue perfection. But the first time around, just write something. Even your worst writing will be better than the blank page you’ll be left with while your sitting around trying to make it perfect. The next time you sit down to write and can’t seem to get things flowing, start a conversation with yourself and ask whether or not you’re trying to make things perfect. If your answer is affirmative, quit making excuses and just start writing.