Before I start, I want to get it out of the way – I am not here to tell you that “it’s okay to write like crap” because let’s face it, if you are a true perfectionist, of course it’s not okay to ever write like crap. Instead, I want to share with you what seems to work for me. It’s not rocket science, but just a simple strategy: work in stages.
What is your main goal as a writer? To be productive and get the words flowing on the page. But what is stopping you? That word is not quite what you want it to mean, this sentence doesn’t seem right, you are sure there is a specific terminology you have to Google before you carry on, this word doesn’t look right, how do you spell it again? The list is endless.
And so, at the end of your writing time, you have learnt a lot on what the Parisian metro looked like after World War 1, you have found three synonyms for the word ‘whisper’, you have come up with ten variations of your lead character’s name, but how far have you taken your story? I will let you answer that one.
So what do I do to remedy to my perfectionism? I set myself a time slot. For example: 30 minutes of writing, followed by 15 minutes of revision. This eases my mind because I know that however uninspiring and badly written one sentence might be, if I plod along, I will be given the opportunity to edit and improve in less than half an hour. Of course, the time slots you allow yourself will vary. If you are a slow writer (like me), you could prolong those 30 minutes to 1 hour, 2hours, or why not a full afternoon if you have the time and patience. Whatever time you spend writing, allow yourself half that time to edit afterwards. If, on the contrary, you tend to get the words down on paper a little faster but the imperfections really start to bother you after the third paragraph, then you can stop earlier and revise then. Warning: make sure you evaluate what works best for you before you start, or this will lead to ‘more editing’, ‘less writing’ – guaranteed!
There is of course an exception and however obvious it may seem, I will state it anyway: if the juices are flowing, do not stop at the end of your allocated slot; let it flow until you run out of fuel and use the editing slot to recharge. Sometimes, the evil, little voice in your head will seep in during your writing slot, urging you to hit the backspace button and erase everything but you will find that the more you apply this method, the quieter the voice will get.
And don’t forget, perfectionism is procrastination’s ally – why else do you think they share an initial?
If you are also a procrastinator, check my post about what lies behind it here.