Monday, March 10, 2014

The Perfect versus The Good

One mistake a lot of writers make is to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I think this is also a large source of writer's block.

What do I mean?

A lot of writers think their first draft has to be brilliant, perfect, inspirational, and evocative.  Because that's what they want their work to be.  So they sit there, staring at the blinking cursor, unable to come up with the perfect sentence.  Or they write a bit, realize it's not amazing, and quit in frustration.

I have news for you: your first draft will suck.  Get over it and write the damn thing.

An example: In my first draft of my forthcoming novel Gods of Strife (book four of the Adept Series) I described a female character like this:

I'd often heard the cliché "face of an angel" but in this case it appeared literally true.

And I hated it.  But I didn't stop to think of something better because I wanted (and needed) to keep on writing (there was an action scene about to come up I wanted to write).  So I kept pounding on the keyboard but that line kept nagging me.  I knew I could do better.  I wrote the entire first draft with that awful, cliched description in my work.  But I didn't forget about it and, of course, returned to it in the edit process.

After several iterations I settled on:

Her features were china-doll delicate, as if she would shatter when first touched without care. Fair skin almost the color of freshly-fallen snow seemed flawless, without a mark or freckle.

Much better.  Maybe not perfect but so much better.

I stick to the Dory (the regal blue tang fish from Finding Nemo who had to keep reminding herself to "Just keep swimming") philosophy of writing: "Just keep writing.  Just keep writing.  Just keep writing."  You won't write anything if you don't write.  Seems simple but a lot of want-to-be writers forget it.

My freelance work helps with this.  I have deadlines.  I have to get the thing written.  So I have to hammer it out.  Then I can go back and fix things.  Sometimes I have only a few days to get the story written (once I only had hours).  So I have to write it, proof/edit/revise, and then call it "good enough" and send it out.

This is sort of, as I understand it, the thought behind NaNoWriMo: write out your 50,000 words and don't worry about how bad it is.  But I do think a lot of NaNoWriMo participants forget that their first draft sucks and that they now need to spend a few months editing, revising, proofreading, and editing, revising, proofreading again until it is, if not perfect, as good as you can make it.

But it won't happen until and unless you get that first lousy, awful, desperately-in-need-of-work first draft done.  Just keep writing.


  1. Good advice. Revising is *so* much easier than writing ex nihilo. Also more fun.

  2. This is wonderful advice!
    "I have news for you: your first draft will suck. Get over it and write the damn thing."
    I think we all need someone to walk up to us, smack us upside the head, and repeat those words.