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Amateur Writers Want Everything To Be Perfect The First Time Around

by The Procrastinating Writer on June 11, 2008

“As an amateur one always want to write ‘well’. “


That’s a comment I received on something I posted in the Writer’s Digest forums. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 13, and I’ve been writing professionally for almost seven years, so I really wouldn’t consider myself an “amateur” by any means.


That was, however, until I read that comment.


That comment really slugged me in the face. In fact, it almost knocked me out cold. Maybe I AM an amateur fiction writer, because it seems like most of the time the reason I don’t write is because I’m always worried that what I write will suck.


I think a lot of writers have a “perfectionist” inside them. You would think being a perfectionist is a good thing, but when it comes to fiction writing, perfectionism will hinder you a lot more than it will help you.


When you’re writing fiction, you need to be able to get everything down on paper before you start judging how good or bad it is. But that’s often very hard to do. Which is why writers procrastinate, not because they don’t want to be writing, but because they don’t want to be writing badly.


If we’re ever going to reach our writing dreams thou, we need to be able to rise above the need for perfection and allow ourselves to write badly. One of my favorite writing books, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, has an entire first chapter dedicated to what she calls the “shitty first draft.”


Here’s a passage from that chapter:

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

Anne mentions that in order for her to write anything at all, she needs to just write and not think about how good or bad what she’s writing is.

And I think this is something we all need to try as well. If we turn off our “inner editor,” the voice that tries to make everything we write “perfect,” we will actually end up with something other than a blank page at the end of our writing sessions.

Try this sometime soon: Sit down and write, without allowing your thoughts to fall on whether or not what you’re writing is any good. Then check back and let me know how it went.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous June 15, 2008 at 3:46 am

I have an ‘inner editor’ that is extremely cranky and difficult to please. I use to visit the Writers Digest but stopped because they are discouraging over there. I’m not sure if they are insecure are stuck up, but either way it wasn’t helping me.

2 The Procrastinating Writer June 16, 2008 at 3:09 pm

haha, my inner editor is also extremely cranky and doesn’t like it when I want to sit down and write (because it thinks everything I write is crap).

3 merlotmom June 24, 2008 at 12:14 am

So true…I read Bird by Bird years ago but think I should at least re-read Chapter 1. That quote really kicked me in the pants. Thanks.

4 The Procrastinating Writer June 24, 2008 at 3:48 pm

merlotmom–you’re welcome! you’re the reason i keep writing this blog 🙂

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