The idea of creating a novel first crept into my mind one scorching hot day in my apartment in the rural town of Vidrare, Bulgaria 7 years ago. When you are free of electronics, have no car, and must go to the local grocery store to get any sort of air conditioning – your imagination has plenty of room to wander. A story flooded my thoughts, and I began hastily jotting down notes in a small black journal that I kept by my bed. I dreamed up characters, exciting twists and turns, even wrote a few sample paragraphs. Believe it or not, one of the first few paragraphs of the prologue of my novel was written that summer in Eastern Europe.
Over the next few years I did a lot of reading, a lot of googling, a lot of research, and a lot of bad sentence writing. I found some great coaches to help me improve: Stephen King, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, John Truby, Jake Resor, and a few others. I gleaned wisdom from all their words and voices, but none hit as close to home as the words of Anne Lamott. I encourage all humans to read the works of Anne Lamott, but I specifically encourage all writers to read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird.
An author friend told me that only 3% of writers ever actually finish a complete first draft. After almost 7 years, my first draft is officially complete. Yes, celebration is in order, but it wasn’t easy. The hardest part of finishing the first draft of my novel was the constant thought in the back of my mind…“This book sucks.”
I knew my characters weren’t fully developed, my dialogue sounded elementary, and I kept switching back and forth from past and present tense. The perfectionism was crippling.
The longing for people to enjoy what I wrote was slowly losing the battle to the fear that people might…not. Perfectionism was holding me back.
Lamott articulates this point beautifully, while relating it to writing:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping -stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force. Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground— you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
Perfectionism has served as a stumbling block for me in so many areas of my life; my schooling, my job, my relationships, my dreams. Finishing the first draft of my novel and starting the process towards publication is just one way I am taking a stand and moving forward.
Statements are being made. I am okay with you seeing my unfinished product. I am okay with hearing feedback and with making edits and changes. I am okay with criticism. I’ll even be okay if someone tells me that some parts really suck.
My hope is that through this writing process, the breakthroughs I have with my novel will begin to mirror breakthroughs I have in my own life. To be more okay with my family, friends, and co-workers seeing me as the unfinished product I am. To be more okay with getting tough feedback from my bosses, my spouse, and my close friends. To be more okay with just being and not always having to prove.
Perfectionism is a direct assault against gratitude, humility, and vulnerability. In the story that is my life, those are three characteristics I want to be defined by. If that’s the case, it’s time to say goodbye to perfectionism.
P.S. – I am going to blog more. I will also be posting snippets of my novel on this blog. If you are interested, please subscribe so I can keep track!
***TLDR (too long didn’t read): Through much toil and turmoil I have successfully completed draft one of my novel. Typing the words “THE END” was a glorious feeling. Now the real work begins! Oh, and perfectionism is bad.***