We live in a world where we’re made to constantly strive for perfection.
Frankly, that sucks.
Why is that we always feel the need to be perfect, even if it’s only our first draft?
Ernest Hemingway was (maybe) once known to say “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”
Here are 3 issues intertwined with perfectionism and ways to help overcome them.
1) To Edit or Not to Edit, That is the Question
OK, so it’s not so much a question as a reality. We must edit. The real question is not if, but when to edit. While the answer is most certainly “it depends,” a writer we know well, Hengtee Lim, puts it this way:
“When you first write something, it’s fine for it to be rough, ugly, and imperfect; you’re just forming an idea. Think of it like making something from clay; when you first start you don’t try to make each piece of clay perfect, you throw pieces of it together so you have something to craft with – that’s what a first draft is. Then, little by little, you make that block of clay into something beautiful.”
Even though we haven’t yet narrowed down when the the optimal timing of the editing process begins or ends, one thing we can say is that we shouldn’t attempt to do both at the same time. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that writing and editing are different activities that require the exercise of different parts of the brain. That’s why writers who understand this go out of their way to separate writing from editing, even going so far as to start their first drafts on paper, and move to text-editing software to finish it.
That’s right: one of the oldest writing technologies — paper — helps you calm the inner perfectionist. Paper inherently makes it hard to edit; n turn, this makes us focus more on the ideas we want to express.
2) Overcoming the Fear of Criticism
We all fear criticism, perfectionists especially so. In the perfectionist’s mind, work is almost never good enough (even though it likely is), and so giving our work to another (most likely perfectionist!) writer is tough.
Even if you don’t identify as a perfectionist, as a writer, you’re probably closer than you think. Despite this, the practice of receive feedback is absolutely critical to the writing process. A recent study asking thousands of writers about receiving feedback had some telling results:
It’s surprising how many people never publish their drafts, until they get feedback.
It’s easy to see how vital it is to get your friends reading your work. Thankfully, the Internet has made it so that you don’t even need real friends (#ForeverAlone) to get feedback on your drafts! There are tons of great resources and communities that can help you, including:
These communities are great because they’re made up of other writers who are feeling the same anxiety towards their own work. The response rate is high and after seeing some of the helpful comments that others post, you too will find it easy to submit.
3) High Expectations Can Be a Bad Thing
Perfection means high expectations. And while it’s good to set a high bar for oneself, if we wait until our environment and ideas are 100% in line with our expectations, we’ll end up waiting… forever. That’s because the higher the bar, the greater the fear of not hitting it.
Serial entrepreneur Tim Ferriss suggests entrepreneurs first define their fears; writers, as entrepreneurs of the tales they tell, should do this, too.
Start by thinking about what would happen if you started writing without a great idea in mind. What’s the worst case scenario? You’d explore a few alleyways of the mind, get a few pages deep, and perhaps decide on a different path, then start over. Now compare this to the case where you waited for that perfect idea to hit you, and you ended up not writing anything at all. Realizing that the worst outcome at most a few hours wasted, and potentially a blessing in disguise that helps you refine your ideas, you’ll have no issue letting go and just getting your words out.
Another suggestion is to put yourself out there and force yourself to write on a semi-regular basis with a public blog! A blog is a great way to practice writing and develop new ideas.
Also, it doesn’t need to be subject to high expectations, as you’re essentially writing for yourself. Seth Godin, the New York Times best selling author and one of the world’s most renowned marketers, has this to say:
“Blogging every day clarifies my thoughts — it helps me notice things. It’s one of the most important practices of my profession.”
- If you constantly find yourself editing while writing your first draft, thus preventing you from finishing it, try starting off on paper. Avoid tools that prompt you to edit.
- Don’t shy away from feedback, it does wonders for your draft. There are great communities online where you can submit your work easily and worry-free. Most members already know that what you submit won’t be perfect on the first go.
- Early drafts and high expectations don’t mix well. Just write! You’ll realise that writing drafts is always better than not writing anything at all. Also, a blog is a great way to get your ideas out as it isn’t necessarily subject to high expectations, as you’re essentially writing for yourself.
What are you waiting for? Erase the perfectionist inside you and let your words flow. Remember, your rough draft is only the beginning.
About Rough Draft:
This post was contributed by Rough Draft, a Mac & iOS Writing App. To check out this revolutionary app that helps writers with the drafting process, as well as writing prompts and different modes to suit your writing style and mood, check it out HERE for free.