With the start of our writing lessons with the girls, I've noticed Nichole exhibiting a trait I've fought for years in myself: perfectionism.
It sounds like a good problem to have, but I've come to believe "perfectionism" is just a positive spin word for fear of failure or not measuring up. Whether this level the perfectionist is afraid of not living up to is external or only in their own mind is immaterial. The effects are the same.
It's something I've seen time and again, mostly when looking in the mirror, but you hear about it all the time. While some writers find a blank page and blinking cursor invigorating, others are intimidated and terrified by all that white space waiting to be filled. Opening sentences are hard. First paragraphs and pages, and the last ones are often the hardest parts of writing a manuscript. If you stop to think about how all important those few lines are to drawing the reader in and closing a sale, there's so much pressure! It can paralyze you before you even begin.
Yesterday, I asked Nichole to write down a rough draft of her story on paper, and I would help her clean it up and fix any mistakes as I typed it for her. (She's a third grader. Keyboarding is something on the curriculum for next year.) Although she knew the basic storyline, she sat there for hours and just stared off into space, doodled, and took her pen apart fifty times instead of putting a single word on the page.
She's been telling stories almost as long as she's been able to talk. This child will gladly launch into a tale at the drop of a hat and keep spinning it until asked to stop or her audience, typically her younger sister, drifts off to sleep. What stopped her yesterday?
This is the first story she's set to paper on her own. The couple of stories she's written before, she dictated while I wrote down her words. Now that she has a fair vocabulary of words and a grasp of reading, we've asked her to write them down herself. It's her first experience with the "white page monster."
Although she understands on some level the story doesn't have to be written down perfectly on the first go, getting started is still intimidating. The urge to second guess every word or edit as you go can be overwhelming. Even after writing for twenty-three years, I still find it so. It's hardly surprising an eight-year-old would freeze up on her first try.
How do you keep perfectionism from killing your progress? How do you keep it from trapping you at the beginning with the almighty cursor just sitting there, watching you?
Having an outline helps. Whenever you get stuck, you can just pull the next section in word for word and use it as a spring board. Use it like a rope instead of a map if you must. Think of each note and sub-note as knots in a climbing rope and use them to pull yourself along until you have your feet back on solid ground.
A word count ticker, especially one published on a blog and looking pitiful, can be a major motivator. I can't tell you how many times seeing how pathetic the word count ticker for Icarus' rough draft kept me writing when I was tired and just wanted to veg. It's still moving slower than I'd like, but progress is progress. There have been times my fingers have itched to start rewriting, but I know if I start now, I'll never stop. All forward progress will stop, and I'll get stuck within the first 10,000 words.
That's what took so long with writing Right of Succession. Beyond the fact that I was still in middle school when I started and had to work around homework, class, and chores, I kept going back and rewriting it from scratch. It was needed as I grew and learned, true, but I had no excuse for the last five or six years. It was the fear of failing keeping me stuck in an endless cycle of edits and rewrites.
Rocket City LitFest is in nine months. I hope to have The Icarus Project written, polished, proofed, printed, and ready to debut at the show. Such a short time might be over ambitious, but I'm going to give it a try. In order to do so, I'm going to have to fight the urge to stop drafting and start editing before I have a complete draft with everything I have. I can't let perfectionist based writer's block stall me for days or months at a time.
That's half the reason I've picked this show as the debut date for my second novel. I'm sick and tired of letting my issues with perfectionism push me around and stall my career. Nothing motivates a leap in productivity like looming deadlines.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
Yekara Series Book 2
The Icarus Project
Rough Draft Progress
70566 / 75000
Myth & Science Collection
Icarus Trilogy Book 2
Yekara Series Book 3
Myth & Science Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Icarus Trilogy Book 3
Supers Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Yekara Series Book 4