Perfectionism has been the cause of death for countless novels, short stories, and ideas.
Sadly, some of those deaths have been my own work, and I'm willing to bet you've had projects get thrown to the graveyard due to it, too.
But here's the thing: perfectionism is a good thing... in moderation, in the right timing. When revision and editing come along, embrace that inner perfectionist and charge! Hold nothing back! But during the first draft, it can be a dangerous trait to keep hold of.
Perfectionism is that little wrinkling in the back of your mind that makes you fix all the little red and green lines in your last sentence before moving onto another. Perfectionism is the irritating feeling that you can't possibly move on until you have this paragraph flowing perfectly and sounding just the way you like it. Perfectionism during the first draft makes later editing a million times easier... but the problem is... if you're a perfectionist in your writing, you may never make it to the editing stage.
Once upon a time... your dear friend (hello!) could not possibly imagine composing a draft without making her manuscript perfect as she went. But sadly, it caused many of her projects to just drown in all of her nitpicking. She had heard rumors of novel deaths due to this seemingly innocent habit, but simply ignored them and went her own way, completely blinded by her actions and what they were doing. Until one day, she read on some blog somewhere, that to tame her perfectionism, she should make her font color white for a little while, until she had learned her lesson.
Out of curiosity, she did it. Oh, how much freedom she had kept herself from! Despite the invisible font on the white, digital paper, she could still see the red and green lines popping up all over. It was very hard for her not to change the words back to black so that she might see her mistakes clearly and be able to fix them. Seeing them and doing nothing to get rid of them, irritated her deeply; but she took the blogger's advice and pushed forward, focusing her mind only on what she was saying, and not how well it sounded.
After some time of doing this, she learned many lessons, and I think I will share them with you today...
When it comes to your first draft, just write. Write the words that come to your brain, and don't give them a second thought! Just throw it all down onto paper and keep running! The result will be so worth it. When you are simply giving everything you've got, you have so much more to work with. It broadens your story, plot, and dialogue. Don't focus on the sound of the writing; focus on the MEANING. Make sure your character is getting his point across, because, let's face it: during the first draft, we don't know what we are trying to get across until it all comes together in a close. Just throw what you want to say in there, even if makes your character sound like he's repeating himself ten times in one sentence. You'll fix it later, but it will allow you to really dig into what it is you want for your reader to learn from each scene and conversation. It's going to sound miserable and cliché, but believe me when I tell you that it will give your writing so much more depth.
And this goes for spelling and grammar, too. Leave the red lines be! They'll be there when you come back to edit and then you can have a perfectionist party! But for now, stop focusing on those dotted lines and just spill your ideas, brains, and heart onto the page. This helps you to keep your train of thought, and just keep going. You will be SO much more productive in your writing time, and much less likely to let your novel drown.
Write Without Fear.
One HUGE mistake I have made in the past, is thinking about my future audience as I write.
DO NOT do that.
Right now, you are writing for you. Get your heart on that page, express your thoughts and feelings exactly how you think and feel them. You can decide later how much of yourself you want reveal, disguise, and hide, but for now, make this novel mean something to you. Make it a part of you, and you, a part of it.
Here's the thing...
When you focus too much on making your novel perfect, it will overwhelm you. You'll give up, and want to move on to something that you are just SURE you can write, so much better! But the truth is, it's a first draft and it WILL NOT BE PERFECT. I don't care how much you planned and plotted and prepared.
You have created a world and some characters, and now, during this draft, you are placing these little people into your universe, throwing circumstances at them, and watching to see how they will respond.
Your first draft holds unknowns.
And you need to let it.
Don't try controlling your characters; let them go off and see what they do based on their new environment! Don't be over controlling of your novel. Let crazy stuff from your brain just happen, and you'll be amazed at what you'll create.
You'll create a mess.
A beautiful mess. One full of red and green lines, clichés, and run-on sentences. But in between the dotted lines, you'll find hidden treasures that would never have appeared had you not just, let your brain do its work without the nagging perfectionist-monster.
It's been truly freeing to let go of my perfectionism and has given me a whole new outlook on the writing process. I hope that you can experience it, too!