by Fae Rowen
I'm not one hundred percent certain, but I'm pretty sure that the perfect writer doesn't exist. It certainly isn't me.
When I began writing the second book in my published series, I wanted it to be perfect. That meant it had to be more exciting, more emotion-packed, a real page-turner. I wrote a little, then revised. And revised. And revised. Then tossed that opening and tried another. Eight months later I should have had a book. I had two-thirds of a wobbly, structurally inadequate novel that I knew had major problems.
I did anything to keep from sitting in that chair in front of my computer, working on what I knew was a sinking ship. I couldn't figure out how to fix it. The book I'd loved and thought about for more than three years, couldn't come together no matter how hard I banged my head on the desk.
I grew up demanding perfection of myself. My father had been a staff sergeant in the Army, then a tool-and-die maker who made dies with tolerances in the microns. His livelihood was based on perfect measurements and execution of detail. I tried to be just like him.
Years later, I discovered how freeing it was to let that need for being perfect go. I've succeeded in many areas, but sometimes I slip back into those old familiar patterns. PRISM: Book Two was birthed in a perfect storm of the search for perfection.
Last year I had to rehab from a couple of injuries. My physical activity took a big hit, which affected my mental confidence and my health in general. Who knew it would also affect my writing? But it did.
My main characters weren't as capable or confident as they were in the first book. They waited for things to happen to them, instead of making their own choices. I left out many details and scenes that I thought would be boring. But those scenes were necessary to the continuity and context of the story. I thought the story was going to be about the love interest from the first book, but the original main character's story wasn't complete.
Even though I had read about deep POV and wrote in deep POV, I took a writing class on deep Point of View. It was filled with new information, exercises, and ideas. I tried them out with varying degrees of success. Practice was necessary to hone my new skills.
As soon as my editor pointed out that the story needed to focus on my original main character, who'd been left in a semi-cliff hanger situation, the book got back on track. Not surprising, this coincided with the resolution of my injuries and my ability to walk my beloved trails again.
I have a new deadline, which I'll meet, and I'm happy with the development of the story. I'm writing again—and loving it. Even though I know my words aren't perfect, aren't woven together without flaws, they are at least flowing and telling a coherent story.
Perfectionism is that critical writer's voice that you must sometimes set aside to put words on the page. Perfectionism becomes a problem when it stops you from doing something you want to do. That's what happened to me. My "real" life was far from perfect, so I tried to be perfect in my writer's world. Perfectionism can rob us of our dreams by keeping us from starting something that we know won't be perfect or by stopping us from completing an imperfect work.
For me, an increase in physical activity helped me push through the old patterns. It wasn't a huge change, but walking out in nature again gave me new ideas, an appreciation for the life around me, and the impetus to make the changes I needed to make in my writing and my life.
Write your best book now. Learn the skills you'll need to improve your prose, perfect your craft, and polish your book. Don't let perfectionism hold you back; let it catapult you into the career you deserve.
Has the need to be perfect affected your writing? How?
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules. P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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There's always pressure, and it grows with each book, but I strive for "better" rather than "perfect." I also trust that I'm learning more with each book. I'm "self-taught" (not that I haven't enlisted the help of critique groups, editors, workshops, etc.), never having taking writing classes. It's a continual learning process.
"Better" is possible; "perfect" is not. I played in piano competitions years ago, and I learned a lot through practice, so I understand that aspect. Thanks, Terry, for a sensible reality check!
I'm so glad I didn't get the 'perfect gene'. I want every book to be better, but perfect? I'd rather try to play golf or something (that little hole, in all that acreage?!) So sorry that's what held you back, Fae - it's going to be a fantastic book!
Ha-my first time on a fancy golf course last week. I was just riding in the cart to see the beauty of the course on Kauai, but you made me laugh. I couldn't even find the hole in "that acreage"!
I actually love golf, just for the cameraderie and riding/walking around that beautiful course. You two always slay me. And I'm glad you're back on track, Fae.
This is such a wonderful piece. It took me 5 years to write my first book because I put way too much pressure on myself to get it 'perfect'. But perfection is an illusion. If the people of the world can't even all agree on which book out there is the perfect one, and we have Tolkien and Lewis and Le Guin, then I'm sure as hell not going to be the person to write that book.
But when I started taking walks to get out of the house, to clear my mind and work through my anxiety, my writing definitely improved too. Now I strive for 80% instead of 100%, and that's near enough to 'perfect' for me.
Thank you, Yolandie. It was hard to write, to put out to the world that I'm not perfect, even though I freely admit I need all the help I can get. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Gosh, I could've written this post. I do this with every book. I'm a perfectionist and always have been. For me, I think it stems from my past. I have PTSD, which manifests largely as anxiety. So I'm my own worst critic, and like you, often the times when I really struggle with writing are when I'm struggling with my fears. It's when I finally move past the need for it to be "just right" and simply allow myself the freedom to delve into the story that it begins to flow.
Amen,Joanne! Is there a secret handshake for this society? (Yes, I can trace anything "difficult" to my past...as the song from frozen earworms into my brain.)
So interesting how your physical/health challenges lined up with your writing challenges. That seems to happen frequently. Though on my current novel I've gone through a similar process and I've been physically fine! (No excuses for me.) It seems every novel has an obstacle (or several) that we have to get through. I think perfectionism was getting me too—I had to totally walk away for a few months before I was able to get unstuck and move forward. Thanks for sharing Fae and glad you're feeling better!
Thanks, Colleen. Isn't it interesting that we don't realize how much things have deteriorated until we dig ourselves out of the mire? I'm glad you had the time to set your WIP aside for awhile so you could move forward.
Fae, glad you're back to walking the trails! Nothing like a good dose of Nature to get your head on straight. I struggle with perfectionism syndrome every day, especially now that I'm in deep edits. What's funny is my hero struggles with it, too. Being a cop, failure -is-not-an-option dogs his every step. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Barb-though there are no more fairy doors and houses scattered to find on the one we walked together. Why do we take on our character's foibles? Good luck with your deep edits...and the book!
Your posts are always so personal and so helpful, Fae! Great message about perfection--it's the death of creativity, especially in the drafting stage. Glad you're feeling better!
Thanks, Tiffany! It's so much fun to be singing and dancing (badly) again! And writing, of course.
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Thank you for sharing your experiences, Fae. Author and teacher Holly Lisle has a great saying: "Safe never starts, perfect never finishes." I think that perfection can be a form of being safe too, erring on the side of too cautious, overdoing it just to be sure everything is good. It's so great that you were able to shake off too harsh expectations on yourself, and are feeling better now physically.
thanks for the kick in the pants