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Don't Get It Right, Get It Written

by The Procrastinating Writer on July 2, 2009

courtesy of net_efekt

courtesy of net_efekt

By Jennifer Blanchard

American author and cartoonist, James Thurber, said the words that I used for this post’s title: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

Thurber was 100 percent correct with this statement.

Get it written first, then edit it and get it right.

Perfectionism can sometimes take over your life. It can seep into all areas, causing you to even avoid attempting things for fear you won’t be able to do it perfectly.

In fact, perfectionism is a leading cause of procrastination and writers not finishing their projects. 

But what does perfectionism look like?

According to James J. Messina, Ph.D. in his article, Overcoming Perfectionism, perfectionism is:

  • “The irrational belief that you and/or your environment must be perfect;
  • “striving to be the best, to reach the ideal and to never make a mistake;
  • “a habit developed from youth that keeps you constantly alert to the imperfections, failings and weaknesses of yourself and others;
  • “an attitude that whatever you attempt in life must be done letter-perfect with no deviation, mistakes, slip-ups or inconsistencies;”
  • “the underlying motive present in the fear of failure and fear of rejection;
  • “a rigid, moralistic outlook that does not allow room for humanism or imperfection;
  • “the belief that no matter what you attempt it is never ‘good enough’ to meet your own or others’ expectations.”

For more on Overcoming Perfectionism, read Messina’s article.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself. OK, I’m a little MORE than just slightly a perfectionist. (I am a Virgo, after all.)

I am always bad-mouthing my writing by saying that it’s juvenile or crappy.

But the truth is, it’s not. It’s just a first draft. And in order for me to get to a second draft, I have to get the first draft written.

That would never happen though with my perfectionist ways. I spend more time deleting lines and rewriting them than I do just getting the words down on the page.

But I don’t want to do that anymore. (And I’m sure you don’t either.)

So what I propose is that we all take on Thurber’s quote as our writing mantra, and as a way for us to turn off our inner editor and get our writing done.

If you accept Thurber’s quote as your writing mantra, write it down and post it near your writing space. Then whenever you feel your inner editor or inner perfectionist creeping up, repeat Thurber’s line out loud (or in your head if you don’t want others to hear): “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

Do you have a writing mantra? What is it?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lisabirch July 2, 2009 at 11:45 am

this post is all about me, for me, dedicated to me…ALL FOR ME. my gosh i need to plaster his mantra in front of my eyeballs! thanks for this.

2 The Procrastinating Writer July 2, 2009 at 12:10 pm

@lisabirch I’m so glad you saw yourself in this post! (That means I’m not the only one, haha!) Let me know if using this mantra helps you at all.

3 garridon July 3, 2009 at 7:02 am

I know this goes against the grain of common wisdom, but I’ll disagree with “Don’t get it right, get it written” because it’s never worked for me. I’ve tried it, but I’ve learned that I do need do revise as a I go along. The story often evolves so fast and so much that it comes apart if the earlier parts don’t match. On one book, I tried writing it all the way through without revising, and got into trouble about halfway when the story came apart. I finally had to go into revision because I was putting words on the page, but none of it was productive. I might as well have been typing the same sentence over and over!

I know from experience to push through and not revise the first few chapters until I’m at least 100 pages into the story. By then, I’ve settled into the story and can see how it’s beginning to evolve. Since I do tend to try to always revise to make it better (oddly, I’ve never said the story was crappy and tried to revise for that reason), I look for my trigger points. I know that I’m most vulnerable to unnecessary revision in the first 100 pages. If I get stuck, I tend to wander back and start tweaking words. During that phase, I keep the chapters in separate files so all I see is the one chapter, not the whole thing. That helps cut down on the tweaking.

4 Wendy July 3, 2009 at 7:15 am

One thing that helped me get first draft done last year was the National Novel Writing Month in November. Check out the website http://www.nanowrimo.org
The goal is to get 50K written in 30 days. What a great feeling of accomplishment!

5 The Procrastinating Writer July 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

@garridon I believe a writer has to do what works for him/her. So if editing as you go along helps you actually get your writing done, by all means ignore my advice and keep on doing that!!

For some writers, however, editing through the “shitty” first draft while writing it is what causes them to never get the book finished. In this case, I recommend just getting the writing down on the page.

@Wendy Yes! NaNoWriMo is one of the best writing events of the year! Stay tuned to this blog for full coverage of this year’s NaNoWriMo event.

6 Laura Lee Bloor July 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Yes, please keep us updated on NaNoWriMo — I really want to try that this year! Do you have to enroll by a certain date? What’s the registration process for this?

7 The Procrastinating Writer July 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

@Laura Lee Bloor NaNoWriMo starts November 1 at 12:00 a.m. and ends at 11:59 p.m. on November 30 (local time). Your goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

To participate, sign up here for a NaNoWriMo profile: http://www.nanowrimo.org/user/register.

Here is the 10-step process they recommend: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/hownanoworks.

For more information, visit: http://www.nanowrimo.org.

8 Andy Bee July 10, 2009 at 5:36 am


Messina’s article was an eye-widener!

It occurred to me, whilst I was digesting it, that we are all of us exposed on a daily basis to high-achievers and experts by the medium of television, leading us to believe in a distorted view of what is ‘normal.’

How many of us have watch ‘the perfect take’ in a movie and tried (when no-one is watching) to replicate the action – whether it be tossing a bowler hat onto a stand or even pouring out a drink – only for it to look shambolic?

Watch the out-takes…even actors get it wrong over and over and over again. None of us are perfect, so don’t try to be.

It’s only with practise (and some clever editing) that we can get it mostly rite.

9 Laura Lee Bloor July 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thanks, Jen!

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