Thursday, May 23, 2013

First Drafts and Perfectionism: Perspectives from 3 Authors

charm by Alison Strine: She is perfectly imperfect
Charm by Allison Strine

It's easy to get paralyzed when starting something new if you think your work has to be perfect from the beginning. That's true for many types of efforts; one example is writing. So I thought I'd share what three authors have to say about the problems associated with misplaced perfectionism.

Here's Anne Lamott writing about "shitty first drafts" in Bird by Bird:
All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. ...

Almost all good writing beings with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.

Then there's a question that popped up on Neil Gaiman's Tumblr:
Question: I want to write but I am a perfectionist; my soul doesn't believe in first drafts. Advice?

Beginning of the answer: Do something else, or get a new soul.

Finally, there's something I read a few days ago on editor Jack Limpert's blog. He's quoting Tracy Kidder from the book Good Prose — The Art of Nonfiction:
For a time, I insisted that the first sentence be perfect before going on, and therefore spent whole days and nights getting nowhere. This sort of thing happened often enough to make me fear it. So I abandoned care entirely when writing rough drafts. Instead, I wrote fast. ... Writing as fast as possible would prevent remorse for having written badly.
How much more easily might we start new projects, of all sorts, if we gave ourselves permission to do a far-from-perfect first pass, knowing we'll improve things as we go along?

Related Post:
Six Perspectives on Perfectionism

1 comment:

Andrea Sharb said...

Thanks for this Jeri. I love Anne Lamott and find her to be a great inspiration for me as a writer. Neil Gaiman's comment had me laughing out loud, though. I'm a recovering perfectionist and vividly recall letting it keep me from writing. Not anymore. Now, I allow myself to see and experience writing for what it is, a process. In my writing group we encourage each other to write often and write badly. Amazing how over time the bad writing sometimes ends up being quite good.