Complete confidence is not a common trait among writers. I assume that statement applies to people who work in any creative field. It’s not that we’re neurotic. Usually. We are often charming people if you can drag us out into public. Did I mention that we are typically introverts who prefer the company of animals?
So, why the lack of confidence?
When a writer brings a character to life, builds a world, and plots out an entire novel, it’s personal. The character’s thoughts, words, and actions are driven by the author, so they are a peek into that person’s mind. Not necessarily an expression of his or her own thoughts on a subject, but what he or she is capable of thinking about a subject. Writing is an act of exposure, and there is always the fear that someone will—wittingly or unwittingly—cause harm.
When a wolf exposes its belly to the pack, no other wolf will touch it, not even a pup. The same can’t be said of the reading public. Once that short story, essay or novel is out there, it becomes fair game for comments, criticism, and the dreaded internet trolls.
Sometimes the criticism is correct.
I’ve looked up the spelling of names and words when writing only to find they are spelled wrong in the final draft. How does this happen??? It’s a mystery, but it does happen. And I once referred to a shoe string necktie tie as a bolero rather than a bolo. Never mind that an editor and four proof readers missed it as well. When the book came out, a sharp-eyed reader caught it and left a scathing review on Amazon. I immediately corrected it, and I would have reached out and thanked the reviewer had it been possible to contact him.
Sometimes people will simply disagree with you.
In my second pet psychic mystery, A Bird’s Eye View of Murder, Frankie Chandler’s Aunt Gertrude is visiting from Arizona. Auntie can be overbearing at times, which made for some funny situations. Don’t we all have relatives who test our patience? A reader commented that Frankie was just another weak female character because she put up with her aunt and didn’t tell the old lady off. I don’t think self-control and respecting one’s elders are signs of weakness, so I moved on.
The natural response to a fear of making mistakes is to never, ever publish, and this may be why completed manuscripts still languish on some writers’ computers.
Recently, I was lamenting the results of a new jewelry technique I wanted to master. An artist friend told me Better done than perfect.
What a freeing thought.
This doesn’t mean an author should send out a submission or post a book on Kindle without a thorough proofread. (Note: You are your own worst proofreader, because you will fill in the blanks as you read with what you wanted to say. Find an expert if you can afford it. If not, remain friends with former classmates who delighted in comma usage.) It also doesn’t mean that half-baked efforts are okay. It’s only a first draft, but I really want to get it published. Someone will like it.
What it does mean is that after you’ve done your best, after you’ve taken all necessary steps to ensure mistakes are fixed and formatting meets industry standards, you need to let it go and move on to the next project.
Every time you reread a page, you will think of a new and—possibly–better way to say it. Know that and decide to end the loop. You will never stop learning new techniques and tips. Your style will develop, and you will become a better writer, but only if you keep writing. (And not the same thing over and over.)
Once you complete a few projects and let them go, you may even see an increase in confidence. It’s not a guarantee. Those niggling thoughts may always follow you around. Is the finished product perfect? Are the clues too obvious? Did I misspell mononucleosis? Just remember, you’re in charge. You can ignore those thoughts, do your best, and move on.
Do you suffer from paralysis by analysis? Give us some examples. Sharing your demons and having a laugh over them destroys their power!
13 thoughts on “Writing Advice: Better Done than Perfect”
Great post, Jackie, and oh so true. I remember the first time I dared show my work in progress to a critique group. I was terrified, and it hurt to have one member dismiss the work as “corny.” But I focused on the positive feedback I did receive from others, and the helpful, positive criticisms I got. Over the years I’ve learned which voices to listen to and which to ignore, and it’s made me a stronger writer. But without those encouraging notes from people I respect, I’d never have the nerve to publish. I’m grateful I can think something like, “Well, Gayle and Miriam liked it, so it can’t be ALL bad” and hit the “submit” button.
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And we’re so lucky that you did publish, because we have been able to enjoy two wonderful books from you. Makes you wonder what else could be out there that someone is too frightened to move forward with, eh? (I’m not Canadian. I just didn’t want to end a sentence with a preposition.)
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OMG! So true and so timely. After carefully reviewing my manuscript, I sent it in to my publisher. Since then I’ve gone through five reviews, finding errors and tweaks in each one. I just received my first paper print copy and I’m sure I’ll find more. I even dreamed about finding errors in my published book. You’re so right. At some point you have to step away and say, “It may not be perfect, but I’ve done my best.”
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At least it’s only a dream for you. My reality – finding errors after publication – is too embarrassing.
Maybe it’s only a dream…we’ll see about that : )
Oh Jackie, loved this post, especially because it was right on the mark! Several marks, actually. Once published, seldom reread any of my books (except one for my last post here and then when I had to “redo” several books for a new publisher) Horror of horrors–all the “stuff” I found! But your point that at some point you have to stop, is so well taken. Otherwise, they would have never been sent out to publishers. On your editing points, personally, I don’t do critique groups, or have beta readers, but I do pay a professional editor, and have several more trusted professional editors who do it out of love for a well written novel, and kindness.
“Do you suffer from paralysis by analysis?” What a great phrase! I’m stealing… Again, great post that’s got me thinking. And that’s what Writers in Residence is all about, I think. Thank you.
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Steal away. I took it from someone else. It describes my greatest foe. Thanks for the kind words.
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I keep telling myself: Only God is perfect. I try very hard to find those pesky errors, but even the big publishers let goofs stay on the printed page. One thing I do for every book or short story is have my computer read it back to me. Hearing it does allow those other senses to kick in and catch errors. We do get better the more we write. But then it’s time to send it off. This was a very good post. Gives us courage to carry on. Thanks, Jack.
I’ve got to try having mine read aloud sometime. Thanks for the idea.
Sometimes I suffer from paralysis, but I have been getting better at moving forward. I think we tend to be perfectionists and that can be both a strength and a weakness. In such cases we have to find a middle ground, which is easier said than done.
In terms of criticism, this is how I’ve learned to gauge it from my experiences. If loads of people are telling me that my story needs work or that is has problems, I take it very seriously and work on rewriting it. However, if only a few people offer me criticism while more people offer me praise I chalk it up to differences in readers’ tastes.
Good rule to follow. It’s difficult, because we naturally want our writing to be perfect.
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Love this post, Jackie! I know all about “paralysis by analysis.” It took me years to write my first book because I kept changing the plot and characters. Right now I’m working on a short story that’s due on Dec. 1 and I keep changing that around as well.
Two years after publishing my first book (the one that took years to finish) I discovered, quite by accident, that I’d credited Raymond Chandler with writing the novel Key Largo. Kay Largo was a play and movie, not a book, and Raymond Chandler had no involvement. No editor or reader ever caught this error.
I’m so happy I discovered this blog.
Welcome! I know that feeling. With the bolo/bolero incident, I made the corrections and uploaded them. Fortunately, it was early days when it happened. Maybe people who have the original can hang onto it and auction it off someday! Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I’m glad you enjoy our blog.