Being Rubbish Is Okay
(In The Long Run)
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”
— C. J. Cherryh
Too many aspiring authors act overly precious with their work. In one sense that’s good: perfectionism and professionalism are closely linked. In another way, though, they’re hindering their growth by using perfectionism as an excuse not to push themselves. They don’t take chances, they don’t let themselves write something terrible or experiment with different styles. They’re so concerned with perfectionism, they’re handicapping their writing before it’s even begun.
For these types of individuals, it takes them an inordinate time to produce a first draft of anything. A short story takes a month or longer to complete; a novel takes years. And that’s only in the beginning stages. When they finally do put something down on the page, they’ll waste even more time writing and rewriting the same thing to death, and won’t ever send it off until it seems perfect. The problem is it never seems perfect — there’s always something they can change: a word, a phrase, the structure of a sentence. If you keep looking for issues with something, you’ll find them. Sometimes you need to accept your manuscript’s possible limitations (especially if you’re being overly pedantic) and let it go.
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You need to stop sitting down at your laptop with the expectation that your next novel will become a smash hit and make you millions. By approaching a project with an end goal that’s too big and/or unrealistic, you may just inhibit your creativity. You’ll begin to question whether it really is good enough, or funny enough, or smart enough. You’ll overthink things and lose the passion and creativity that you need in order to write something amazing in the first place. It’s essentially a form of self-sabotage: you tell yourself your novel won’t ever be as exciting as the ideas in your head, which means you spend hours worrying over each sentence or paragraph. In the end you barely write anything — a page here, a chapter there — and it remains unfinished.
It’s important to set yourself goals, but they should be realistic and attainable. Telling yourself the book you’re writing will be a multimillion pound bestseller is great for your ego, but does little to release your stress. All it does is pile more pressure on your shoulders and gives the no-writing-devil a reason to prod you with his pitchfork. What might make things easier is if you break these goals down into smaller segments. Start big: I’m going to finish a novel by the end of the year. Then break it down into sections: I’m going to finish a chapter by the end of the month. And even smaller: I’m going to write thirty pages by the end of the week. And again: I’m going to write four pages a day. And keep going like that. Think small but write big. Don’t worry about the quality of your work for now, just try to reach your end goal. Once you’ve done that, you’ve succeeded. If it’s a terrible book, that’s okay. You can then edit it and restructure it after; you can turn that pile of shit into a triple-decker chocolate cake. At least you’ve done the hard part.
Because actually finishing a novel is the main thing you need to ensure.
Everything else is just decoration and word choices.
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