I’m delighted to be handing over the blog today to author, Tracey Sinclair, who talking all things writing … Over to you Tracey …
Writing: why done is (almost always) better than perfect
One of the issues that comes up time and again when I mentor young writers – yes, it’s scary that I’m now of an age that young writers ask my advice! – is the issue of perfectionism. Oh, it might come in many forms, and many guises, and they might call it something else, but it’s one of the biggest hurdles most writers have to overcome. It can be hard to accept the fact: if you wait for something to be perfect, you’ll be the only one who ever reads it.
Perfectionism is, of course, so often just another form of fear. If you can get something perfect (whatever that means), then no one can reject it. No one can confirm all your inner fears that you aren’t quite good enough/a real writer/smart/funny/insert your particular insecurity here. But if you wait around for perfect, you wait around forever.
The perfect time to write
One of the easiest ways of never doing anything is to put off getting started until you have the ‘perfect’ time to write (the holiday, when the kids are older, when the job calms down, etc). Of course, there will be times when life is simply too much and you shouldn’t push yourself to breaking point out of some insidious belief that ‘real’ writers write must every day, but equally you shouldn’t wait until some fantasy future when you will have ‘more time’. I wasted years between books doing this, and eventually wrote my second novel in 15 minute intervals snatched in whatever free time I had after working long hours at a very demanding job. Just do something – a page, a paragraph, some scribbled ideas. It’s a start, and you can build on that.
Fear of the first draft
This is most common with newer writers, many of whom seem to think that writing flows fully formed onto the page. Uh, no. For almost all writers, the first draft is rubbish. Terry Pratchett famously said he rarely even knew what his books were about until he was halfway through the first draft, and most writers will tell you that the first draft of anything is pretty terrible. Just fill the page. Worry about what you’ll do with it later.
It can be so, so tempting once you have something that is taking shape to think, “ooh, just a few more edits. Maybe another re-read. Maybe one more rewrite and I’ll try something different with that character before it’s done…” I’m not saying go against those instincts. In fact, one of the reasons there is so much bad writing out there is it’s become so easy to put work out quickly – you can publish a book the day you write it, should you wish to (you really shouldn’t wish to) – that a lot of people don’t realise how much hard slog goes into good writing. Rewrites, rewrites, edits, getting feedback, more rewrites, more edits, proofreading… these are all necessary steps. But you can also get stuck in an endless loop when you’re not perfecting, you’re tinkering, and using that as an excuse to delay the inevitable: showing your work to someone else, and risking them not liking it.
So how can you get past it?
A long career that has been dominated by tight deadlines beat perfectionism out of me years ago – when something needs to be broadcast or in print by a certain time or there will be hell to pay, you fast learn the art of getting something as good as you can possibly make it in the space allowed, but letting it go when you have to. Part of this will come with experience, and part of it is hard-won self-knowledge. Maybe you are the next Donna Tartt, and your novel will be all the richer for years spent honing it – and if so, that’s OK. There are books that have been decades in the making, and worth every minute of the time.
But you need to ask yourself some tough questions if keep moving the finishing line: are you doing this because you genuinely think you are making necessary improvements, or because it’s easier than taking the next step?
If you think it’s the latter, there are ways to circumvent your self-sabotage. Perhaps practice in a medium where you are committed to putting out a certain amount of text every week (for instance, start a blog and commit to updating it regularly; you’ll get into the habit of writing with only minimal rewrites, and learn that if you make the odd mistake, the world very rarely explodes). Get feedback on your work from other people: build a team of beta readers, join a writing group, get a writing buddy who will encourage you to move forward, pay for a manuscript appraisal (though do your research – there are some charlatans out there!). What are the things that genuinely need fixing – plot holes, sloppy characterisation, lazy writing? And what are the things that you’ve been desperately hung up on and no one else even notices? Remember: even if an agent or publisher accepts you, they’ll likely ask for changes to your MS, so your final version will look different, no matter how finished you think it is.
Do the best you can with your writing. Make it good, then make it better. Then take a hard look at it and make it better still. But don’t wait around for perfect. Perfect never comes. Think of some things you love – a book, a film, a play, an album. Are they actually perfect? It’s a rare piece of work that isn’t without a flaw, and yet that doesn’t stop you loving it. Maybe someone, one day, will feel that about your work. But only if you give them a chance.
Tracey Sinclair is an author and freelance editor and writer. Her books include the romcom The Bridesmaid Blues and the Dark Dates/Cassandra Bick series, the latest of which, Angel Falls, is out now.
If you’re an author and are interested in taking over my blog, drop me an email to EmmaMitchellFPR@gmail.com and use #AuthorTakeover in the subject please.
Your guest post can be about anything you want, so long as there isn’t any over gratuitous sex or gruesomeness, my mum reads this blog 😉