I’m watching the Raiders and the Dolphins duke it out, and the video resolution of the game keeps going from the usual HD, perfectly clear resolution into a very poor, over the air sort of resolution, and then back again. I know it’s the game transmission, because all of the ads come through in lovely HD, from the fine print about all the various side effects of whatever the drug du jour is to fight cholesterol or diabetes to the latest artery-clogging sandwich from any number of fast food joints for which one may very well need cholesterol or diabetes drugs.
But this sparked a thought in my head about writers (some writers) who are paralyzed while writing because they believe what they write on the page must match exactly with what is in their head, and if it doesn’t, they cannot move on until it does.
This is not a good way to write that first draft. I know this, because I’ve had the same paralyzing grip of perfectionism myself that prevented me from making any decent progress on whatever I’ve been writing. It is the type of mindset that leaves a drawer full of half-written pieces – if we’re lucky to have made it that far – and folders of uncompleted manuscripts on the computer. Most of all, it is the type of mindset that, if maintained, will ensure you will finish nothing at all, thereby avoiding even the slightest whiff of external criticism.
There is a solution to this, of course. The solution is to plow past any roadblocks that tiny voice is putting into your head about how each sentence must be perfect before moving along to the next one. It’s completely acceptable to acknowledge that things are not going to come out of your head to the page exactly the way you thought it would or how you think it should be. These are things that can be fixed later – but you might find that some of the things you thought were simply awful and that you have now contributed to the detriment of literature overall are not really that bad. This can be particularly true if (as in my case) the story has been banging around in your head for so long that the entire story is basically written, and the story has been revised multiple times as it baked in your brain already, making the first draft very much like another’s second or third draft. Even if this is so, however, it would be a good practice for some writers – me again! – to not read back over the previous day’s work. It is just too easy to get caught in the quicksand of the perfectionism mind and have all the progress and momentum you’ve built up grind to a halt.
Remind yourself of this: you can edit what you’ve written after the work itself is complete. Make yourself a deal with that little voice that tells you everything you write stinks and you’ll never get anyone to act as a beta reader and you’ll never be able to revise it to come close to the imaginary utopia in your head and you’ll never get any interest from any agents or traditional publishing houses and you’ll be lucky if anyone at all reads it is you self publish and on and on and on. You can deal with these things if they even appear. Write without looking back over your shoulder at the road you’ve laid and instead look ahead to the road less traveled, as Frost would say. That is your path, and no one else can create it but you.
Deep breath. You may pour your heart and soul into the book, but the book is not you. It’s just a small piece of yourself you’re bravely sending out into the universe. And that’s more than most people ever accomplish.
Until next time, peeps: be well.