So many of the authors I work with tell me how hard it is to get their words down on paper; that their first draft is never how they imagine it in their heads; that they spend an inordinate amount of time on just one paragraph; that it is just not good enough! They work in fits and starts, never getting to where they think they should be. Sound familiar?
I almost always respond to these complaints with one of my most favorite quotes:
FIRST DRAFTS DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. THEY JUST HAVE TO BE WRITTEN!
As far as I'm concerned, perfectionism and self-doubt is deadly for writers. It doesn't mean that you can't go back and change a word here and there, or when you've gotten down a chapter or section going back and working on that. But if that changing or seeking that absolute perfect word gets in your way of plowing through your first draft, then you may have a problem as you will over-think and never be happy with your words on the paper and so nothing will ever move forward to a completed draft. Unfortunately, for some, they spend as much time fighting against perfectionism and self-doubt as they spend in actual writing time.
Why do people believe that what they put down the first time needs to be perfect? I think it is probably a combination of several things- usually all stemming from the self-doubt rattling around in their head. The inner head critic starts telling you that “your plot is stupid or doesn't make sense” or “everyone already knows all the stuff you are writing so why bother as no one will want to read what you write” or “people are going to laugh at your writing” or “ that you are stupid or can't write”. What happens as these thoughts rattle around is that they will impede the flow of your writing. “But if I just can spend time fixing that word, or changing that, then people will think I'm brilliant...” Unfortunately, the result is that you will be brilliant, but only in your own head because you will never get anything out there for others to read so no one can tell you you aren't brilliant!
Remember, you will probably revise something smaller like a blog post 3-4 times before posting it. For larger pieces such as short stories or books, you may revise many more times before you even hand it off to an editor. Writing through your perfectionism and overthinking is not easy but it is something you need to do on your first draft. I will tell my authors to turn off the computer screen when they are writing until they have finished writing for the session. This will focus them on just getting it down and they won't get hung up on going back and re-reading and second guessing while they are getting words down on paper. Okay, reality check here... how many of you just said, “I couldn't do that and not see what I've written!” Well, try it. It will help in breaking the habit of constantly second guessing yourself on your writing.
When you stop spending so much time on your word choice or imperfections of your writing in your first draft, you will leave yourself much more time to actually write. Remember and focus on the end result of sharing your story/truth with others and trust that it will get there at its own time. (That's why you're writing, remember?) But you can't move forward until that first draft is written. It doesn't have to be perfect. That's why God made editors! You need to just get it down on paper.
For those interested in getting started writing, my next one-day Writer's Workshop will be on 1/24/15 in Alameda, CA. In the alternative, for those of you who would like to work with me 1 on 1 on getting down your first draft or your story out of your head onto paper, or would like to explore how you can publish with Our Little Books, please contact me for a free consultation.