Learning to write imperfectly is one of the biggest reasons why I am a happy writer. There’s something kind of magical that happens when you embrace the idea of imperfection. It’s why I get excited to work every day and why I never hate my work-in-progress, no matter what stage it’s in.
As writers, a part of us (maybe a large part) is programmed to strive for perfection. It’s inherent. We want our stories to be the best they can be and because of that, we are often all too aware of their flaws. And once we’re aware of those flaws, we have a compulsive need to fix them. I’ve found breaking free from this compulsion to be transformative.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be thorough and focused or that you shouldn’t polish your book to the best of your ability, but I am saying you shouldn’t obsess. And you shouldn’t make perfection a goal.
Accepting that your work will not be perfect is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your book. It can be hard to do but it’s also worth it! Here are some reasons why you should embrace imperfection and some tips on how to make it happen.
Why writers should Embrace Imperfection
You can focus on what really matters
Once you accept and celebrate the fact that your work will not be perfect, it no longer has to be. That means you can put your time and attention on what really matters–telling yourself a story that makes you happy. Perfection really comes into play when you think about what agents/editors/readers/people will think about your work. And that’s something to consider after your book is written, but while you’re writing, it’s not about any of them. It’s about you and how writing it makes you feel. Write a story that excites you and makes you happy. Then keep improving it until it reads like a book you would love if you hadn’t written it. It may not be perfect, but it will still be excellent.
It frees your mind and your story
All of that brain power you’ve been using to perfect your story as you write is suddenly free. This means instead of obsessing over what you’ve already written, your mind has the space to generate new ideas and directions for your book. Sometimes those ideas will even help fix your books problems–without any of the stress or worry you’ve probably grown accustomed to.
It won’t hurt your story
At the time I’m writing this, I have two published books out in the world. There are definitely things I would change about them. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who can read their own work and not want to change it. And while I did my very best to be detail oriented and thorough during the editing process, I didn’t obsess. I made a decision, I double checked, and then I moved on. My books are not perfect. I haven’t read the published versions, but if nothing else, people have told me that there are typos. That version has been read by more friends, editors, proofreaders, and myself than I can count and it still isn’t perfect. And yet, I’ve gotten emails, and tweets, and Instagram messages from people all over the world who tell me how much they enjoyed reading my books.
So, what’s the takeaway? An imperfect story is still worth reading. And I don’t regret that I didn’t obsess, even knowing I missed things. I’ve obsessed in the past, so I know what it feels like. And I know how good it feels when I don’t. Perfection is not worth my sanity. And it turns out, plenty of people like my stories just fine, as imperfect as they are.
Tips to help
Of course, the idea of embracing imperfection sounds great, but it can be a hard place to get to. So, here are a few tips to help you break free!
Set a goal and give yourself time limit
That goal could be a word count or page count, but it should definitely be quantifiable and something you could reasonably manage if you worked without stopping in a given time period. (Like 600 words in 30 minutes.) The only thing that matters is meeting your goal in the time you set. When your goal is to hit a number, not write well, you can’t afford to worry about imperfections–especially when you’re racing against the clock. I find this particularly helpful in the drafting and revision stages.
Free write or write exercises
Like I touched on earlier, perfectionism is less about you writing and more about the idea of other people reading your writing. So get used to writing pages that are just for you and that will never be read by anyone else. Ever. These pages can be free-writes of a book or project you’re working on, a response to a prompt, or a writing exercise. The point is to write without considering a reader–because there isn’t going to be one. Then once you learn what this feels like, carry that feeling and mindset into your project.
When you get stuck ask people you trust for help
I found that when I started asking my critique partners and trusted friends for help when I got stuck, it made it easier to write imperfectly. When I got used to the idea that I didn’t have to solve every problem on my own, as I was writing it, it became easier to write badly or imperfectly and know that I would fix it later. (Note: Don’t trust just anyone with this step. The people you talk to need to get what you’re trying to do and actually help you, not discourage you or add to your stress.)
That’s it for this one!
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Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with perfectionism? If you have, how have you tried to manage it? If you haven’t, what’s your mindset? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.