Writing Advice: Better Done than Perfect

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!