Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. You’ve probably heard this before. Trying to get everything ‘just right,’ especially on the first try, can keep you from truly exploring your ideas and coming up with something that might be even better than what you were originally aiming for. Much like children, our imagination works better when it has time to play, instead of being forced to sit and learn the proper way to do things all day long.
I had a hard time with this when I first started writing, and for many years after while I got the hang of being a writer. I was always afraid to move forward until I had everything exactly where I wanted it. The problem is, in writing you may move forward only to discover you’ve toppled the precarious tower of blocks you already built behind you, but that’s okay. You can always return and set the blocks back up, in a completely different pattern if need be…after you’ve built the rest of the structure.
The best piece of writing advice I could ever give anyone is don’t fix your writing as you go. By this, I mean during the first draft. The first draft is a messy, convoluted, disjointed piece of work and it’s supposed to be. You’re dumping your ideas out on the page and then later, in rewriting and editing, you will go back and shape it into something a little prettier. It’s important when you’re writing the first draft to just write it, and don’t stop to correct things.
As I said, when I was a new writer I had a hard time with this. I know other writers do too. There’s a temptation every day when you sit down to write to go over what you wrote the day before and fix it up before you start writing again. But if you keep going back and tinkering, you’re not gaining any forward momentum. When you stop to revise what you’ve already written, you’re not writing the rest. It’s okay to have an unwieldy piece of work on your hands when you get to the end of the first draft, but the important part is you have a piece of work now, and you can fix it up. You might find yourself chopping out whole sections, adding new ones, and rearranging things completely. That’s okay. You need something to rearrange, so get that down first.
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, says it best: 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.
Get that first draft down, without worrying about how ugly it looks. You can always cut its hair and do its makeup later.