In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers discusses the dangers of perfectionism.
I recently read this Facebook post, which had dozens of Likes:
A little advice, writers. Don’t think you have to put a whole lot of words on paper every day. What I find is a few words today will encourage more tomorrow. The point is for those few to be brilliant.
I respectfully disagree… that is, if you want to make a living as novelist, or least sell moderately well. If you’re writing just for your own pleasure, you can do whatever you want. But striving for a few brilliant words every day will not produce a finished novel, let alone a body of work.
I realize many writers have full-time jobs and kids at home to take care of. I did too, for most of my writing career. But I found that setting aside blocks of time in which I could write whole scenes for chapters worked better for me than trying to write a little something every day.
And brilliance? Why even think about it? Most readers aren’t looking for brilliance; they just want a good story with interesting characters. So laboring over every word and every sentence is too paralyzing. If you want to produce something for people to read, then you have to finish the story.
Done is always better than perfect.
I’m not implying that I don’t care about quality or craftsmanship. I definitely do. In the second, third, and fourth drafts, I polish my prose as much as I can. But I don’t worry about producing beautiful turns of phrase or poetic descriptions. As Elmore Leonard says, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
In my prose, I strive for clarity, readability, and rhythm. In my word count, I strive for consistent daily production while I write the first draft. Getting the whole story down in a short period of time is my goal—because it works. The longer it takes to write the first draft, the more I struggle with keeping the whole story in my head and making the timing work out.
I’ve known people who spent five or ten years writing the same novel and never finishing it. That must be purposeful. They must not want to finish because finishing means letting someone read it. And that’s scary. I understand.
But I want people to read my stories, and I don’t care if no one ever calls my writing brilliant.
The woman who wrote the post may have thought she was being encouraging to authors. But telling writers to strive for a few brilliant words every day is bad advice on both levels… unless she was trying to thin out the market competition.
What do you think of that advice? What works to keep you motivated?