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A Rookie Mistake in Writing

It has recently come to my attention, and by that I mean three minutes ago, that as an aspiring writer, I always fall into a particular trap. No, no, it’s not like I don’t know the trap is there. It’s not that I’m not observant enough. The problem is that I’m not smart enough to remember how hard it is to climb out of it, so I don’t bother to avoid it. It’s a trap that a lot of aspiring writers (and professionals, if their pep talks are to be believed) fall into:

Wanting that perfect first draft.

That’s the real reason I miss the deadlines I set for myself, which also makes it the real reason that I started this blog. I possess this strange perfectionism that makes me want to write the perfect form of a story in one go, so I agonize and overthink every word of every sentence until the story sputters to a standstill. I do this every time, knowing that it won’t work. If stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, well, I’m being pretty darn stupid.

Every single writer’s guide or professional author’s tips I have ever read makes one thing clear – just get the draft done. Every single NaNoWriMo pep talk Don’t sit waste weeks on the same chapter. Plow through it. That doesn’t mean don’t plan, but don’t plan every single word. Get the plot done. You can refine word choice later.

Believe me, I’ve made excuses for the other side before. “No, but I can’t concentrate if I don’t like what I have” or “I’ll waste more time going back and fixing it later on” are common ones that managed to persuade me that I’m doing the right thing. However, those are complete and utter lies that I tell myself as an excuse to procrastinate. I hereby vow to never fall for them again, and let me tell you four reasons why you shouldn’t either:

1. It ruins your flow.

Let me tell you from experience, there is nothing worse than stopping and starting and rewriting the same portion of your story over and over. There are many papers written about how ‘flow’ is important to boost creativity and productivity, and being a perfectionist on your first draft is like trying to paddle a boat through mud. There is no flow. You’re stuck. That’s what’s called writer’s block. Sometimes you have to paddle through it and let yourself cruise.

2. It’s easier to edit than to write. 

And really, why are you trying to be perfect the first time anyway? It’s easier to revise a piece of work than to get it right all at once because it’s easier to know what to fix when you can see what’s wrong. It’s your first draft for a reason – we call it the ‘first draft’ because we’re expecting there to be a second and a third and etc. Having a ‘perfect first draft’ is impossible, an oxymoron, and defeats the point anyway.

3. It’s useless on a deadline.

If you ever work for a publisher, there are going to be deadlines to meet. Heck, even writing competitions have deadlines. However, think of it this way – on a school assignment, if you spend a five days on your introduction when you have a week to work, you may end up with a stellar introduction and an inadequate everything else. That’s not going to get you a very good grade, and that won’t be winning you any accolades for your creative writing either.

4. Stories change.

Alright, so let’s say that you manage to write a perfect paragraph. You love it. You’re completely happy with it. However, as you write, you eventually discover that you’ve gone off your initial plot and the story is developing in a different direction. There are new themes you want to introduce, or you realize you have to pace the story differently. This means that you have to alter what you’ve already written. This means – you guessed it – all that time you spent perfecting that earlier paragraph is time you wasted since it’s not relevant to the story anymore. The fact of the matter is, stories are organic. Until you write the entire thing, you can’t really say for sure that you know what’s going to happen. Trying to write a perfect first draft is really just investing a lot of time in something that probably isn’t going to last.

So, honestly, just get the first draft done. That’s the most important thing. Get it done, get it out, and then you can read it and fix it. It’s easier to fix a broken device than build one out of scratch. It’s the same concept, really.

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