I’m a perfectionist.
To be clear, I actually don’t think perfectionism is that great of a personal quality. Hard work, tenacity, time management—now those are attributes worth having, especially if you’re an artist/writer. But perfectionism, well…it just makes things tedious.
But the worst thing about perfectionism, I think, is that it makes me want to make my stories perfect (whodathunk?) before I let anyone else see them. And let’s be honest, folks, that just ain’t possible. So what do I do when the unstoppable force of reality meets the immovable object of my perfectionism? Well, it’s easy.
I tell my perfectionism to GET OUT THE WAY.
Perfectionism manifests itself the most when I start thinking about showing my work to others—especially an agent or an editor. “I just need to change that setting element first,” I tell myself, or “Not until I revise this character arc.” And, in my defense, those things may need fixing, and fixing them is good. Fixing all I can before I start circulating my work is important. But there comes a point where the effort to fix something—or the effort needed to find something else to fix—exceeds the anxiety of submitting a flawed manuscript.
And that’s the thing: a manuscript is going to be flawed, no matter how much work I put into it. I had to realize that my manuscript was never going to be perfect. Published manuscripts aren’t even perfect, for crying out loud. Typos slip through, the passive voice and adverbs somehow seem to meddle their way into things, continuity errors pop up every once in a while. That’s just the truth of things.
So for me to think that I’d have a perfect manuscript before I even sent it out to professionals (i.e. agents and editors) was an impossibility. Fortunately, I had a few smart people tell me this while I was revising, and when Duskfall was finally ready enough for me to query people, it was still far from perfect. But it was a good manuscript. It was as good as I could have made it at that time. If I had taken a few more months—a few more years—tried some other revision methods, read more about the writing process, etc. etc., would I have been able to make it even better? Probably. But diminishing returns applies here, too. There’s a certain point where I see diminishing returns from the effort I’m putting into a manuscript, and an important part of self-discovery as a writer was learning where those diminishing returns began, and when to quit and just send out the damn thing.
Manage your expectations. Learn to let go. Put the hard work in. Be tenacious. Manage your time. Before you’ll know it, you’ll have a ready—not finished—manuscript.
And ready is the more important thing.