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Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 12:05 am
by JadePhoenix
I finished my first book a while ago and had some friends read it. They all came back with, "it's good". That right there told me something was wrong (why isn't it great?) but, having no other recourse, I started querying it. I received a number of positive rejections (serious oxymoron right there) and two requests for partials. What I kept hearing over and over was a variation of, "you have the talent and creativity but not the mechanics". They then said I did way to much telling/not showing, was repetitious in both word use and idea, used passive voice to much, and needed some work on my formatting. Additionally my plot wasn't so great, though the idea behind it apparently was (one agent absoutely loved it, and then rejected me. :) )

Anyhoo, I've been doing all kinds of research and practice to try and get myself up to snuff. I've written out an entire new Story Bible with a brand new shiny plot that, hopefully, is far more kickass than the last one was. So now I simply need to sit down and write it. The only problem is I'm finding I'm so incredibly worried about making the same mistakes all over again that I can't write! I'll write and then go "that sucks", erase, write, "it STILL sucks", erase, and so on and so forth. I've tried to tell myself "it's a first draft, it's supposed to suck" but I still can't seem to get myself past that hurdle and just write the stupid thing. I could do it before - the first completed verstion was three hundred pages. Now, however, knowing what I have problems with I can't seem to get past the first blasted page.

Any suggestions? I know I can't be the first person in the world to deal with it so I thought I'd inquire of more experienced minds. Thank you in advance for any advice. :)

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 12:49 am
by Quill
Helluva note. Sounds like subset of writers block. Ye olde lack of confidence syndrome. Eventually you will write yourself out of it. Eventually you will relax and your muse will return. How to get from here to there? Immediate problem seems to be extreme self-consciousness. Perhaps you could share your outline/idea for the book with a good friend, then test it against your best critic. If you can get a hurrah or two for what you propose to write, for the work you've already done (your bible), maybe it will give you the strength to begin the actual writing. Then maybe you could try editing the beginning chapter(s) and get some feedback on just that, before plunging ahead, as if into a vast, scary, unknown land. You know, rebuild your confidence one step at a time that way.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 1:26 am
by polymath
I came up against the "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to conceive" writer's block hurdle years ago when I realized I was just piling up pages and millions of words. It's taken me a hard and long time to work past it. It came down to seeing narrative structure for what it is. It's a cultural coding convention as old as humanity's desire to share narrative conversation and entertainment and instructional briefing and debriefing at the very beginning of language's emergence. The eternal three act structure's basic skeleton: Beginnings are for introducing complications, middles are for efforts to address complications, endings are for final outcomes of complications. I've not read or heard or seen a published narrative that differed by any meaningful measure from that bare-bones formula. Everything else is aesthetics and nuances.

Getting past a blank page means knowing the complication, how to address it, and what its outcome is. Then, of course, ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 3:27 am
by JadePhoenix
Thanks. I know I'll get past it eventually. I need to follow the advice from a poem I read (the name and title both utterly escape me) where the is poet dealing with second guessing and going round and round only to have his muse speak up and say something along the lines of, "fool, take up your pen and write". In other words, I need to just write already!

Quill - that's a good idea too. I haven't shown the new bible to anyone yet. I'll let some people see it and find out what they think. I know it's better than before, but that doesn't always promise it's good. We'll find out and, even if it needs work, I'll at least get some input so it's not just me staring at it all day.

Polymath - I like the analogy! Change just the one word and it really does fit writers to perfection! :)

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 7th, 2010, 3:50 am
by Heather B
JadePhoenix, take heart. I've just come back from a convention and one of the writers on a panel I went to had writer's block for 25 years! He now has about 10 books published but from what he said, he was in the exact same position as you. The way he got through it was by writing something other than what he had planned. He played with short stories, pantsed a few chapters and eventually went on to plan and get published his first book. The main problem he had was that he was trying to hard for perfection. By taking a step back and actually enjoying the writing he got so much further.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 8th, 2010, 9:35 pm
by oldhousejunkie

I know how you feel. Over the weekend, I started to have some serious doubts about my own writing. Doubts can certainly put a damper on the writing muse. But it sounds like you could benefit from a critique partner. You can bounce stuff off of a partner, send some writing, etc. I think if you get some positive feedback, you'll bust right through this. If you ever want an unbias eye to look over your stuff, just let me know. You were super helpful to me when I was writing my synopsis.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 8th, 2010, 9:51 pm
by thrintone
My brother read somewhere that you have to write a million words before you become a good writer. Of course I'm sure it's not exactly true, some people will never be great and some people are great long before such an effort is made.

I guess my point is just keep going. Who cares if it sucks and isn't perfect. Who cares if you aren't writing the book that will sell. Are you having fun? Is it relaxing or soothing to tell the story that's burning away in your mind? Eventually you'll get back in your grove and write something that is great. (If you haven't already)

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 10th, 2010, 4:55 pm
by JadePhoenix
Thanks all. I do love writing and I love my book and characters - I just need to push past the "Am I Crazies?" and the perfectionism. I want it PERFECT right away, so I end up slaving over the stupid first page or first chapter and not writing anything else. Even when I say to myself "it's a rough" I keep trying to make it perfect. Right now I do almost have the first chapter rewrite done. I still think it sucks, and the fact it's not perfect is driving me nuts, but I've told my inner voice to shut the heck up, and have written it anyway. :) Once done I'm going to post it as a rough (as in "I just finished this two seconds ago!") and see what people think of the idea and writing style so far.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 11th, 2010, 7:16 pm
by Matthew MacNish
There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Every book is flawed in one way or another. If it wasn't it wouldn't work anyway.

I love Heather B's suggestion to try your hand at other things for a while. I write short stories, flash fiction, and of course blog posts when I'm stuck in my "real" writing or even just discouraged for whatever reason. If that doesn't work for you or if you are feeling a bit obsessed with this particular project I can suggest a couple other things.

- Can you not revise the original edition? It sounds like you had a beginning with some strengths, is there some reason you cannot build on those?
- If a simple re-write is not in order what about a major one? I recently began re-writing my current WIP from a 3rd person POV into a 1st. It's been making all the difference in the world so far.
- What about a crit group? The feedback you get from agents can sometimes be amazing, but other times it lacks quite a bit (sorry Nathan). They'll often give specifics about what might be wrong but rarely will suggest what or how to change. A crit group can do that for you easily.
- If you can't find a crit group or don't feel ready for one you should enter contests on blogs. I recently won a tandem critique from published authors Tawna Fenske and Cynthia Reese on one of my buddy's blogs, and I swear it is the single best thing to have ever happened to my book.

Take heart and never give up. You're already getting positive feedback from industry professionals, so you're obviously in a good starting place. Keep at it!

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 13th, 2010, 2:30 am
by JadePhoenix
I do have to do a major rewrite unfortunately. The agents basically loved my idea - but the manuscript was far to much telling/not enough showing, they weren't keen on the plot, and they weren't connecting with my MC (I'm assuming it's because of the telling/showing thing - one agent told me she did connect with him in one scene that was a showing scene). Anyway, I reworked the plot and have been trying to rewrite it, but I keep running into the belief that I'm making all the same mistakes and the new manuscript won't be any better.

I did post the first page of the rewrite in the Excerpt page and people said they liked it. I of couse then naturally threw it out and rewrote it (one of my friends has officially refused to help me edit my book until it's done because she said I've been changing it so much). I decided it didn't really start my story as much as it simply started the book, I could have thrown it out or kept it in and it would have made no difference.

Anway, I did write the first chapter and posted it, seven pages that took me a LONG TIME to force out and I still had to force myself to not declare it bad and throw it out. So, we'll see. You're right, having a critique group is HUGE. I can't see what's wrong, clearly, so hopefully others will point it out to me!

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 14th, 2010, 11:14 am
by MedleyMisty
I cringe when I look at my stuff from just last year. And then people tell me that my latest chapter is the best yet and I keep getting better (I publish my stuff scene by scene on my blog for free), and I go crazy wondering what's wrong with the earlier stuff.

And oh yes - I also shudder when I get "good" and not "great".

My point is - you improve constantly, with every word you write. You just have to say - okay, I'm going to try and do the best I am capable of right now, which is better than I used to be and not as good as I will be one day. But as long as it's my current best and I'm growing and learning, it's good enough.

Also, read good books. Read books written at the level of writing you aspire to. As Annie Dillard said - you tend to write what you read.

I don't know if this link will work right, but here's an article about perfectionism that may help you put it in perspective and find your way out of the negative sort of perfectionsim into the good kind.

Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness

Also it may help to do whatever you have to do to write for yourself. Not for agents, not for publishers, not for a critique group. Just shut them out of the process for now and don't worry about them - I can imagine that you might be hearing what they would say about your writing when you try to write and that's part of what's blocking you.

Good luck.

Re: Dealing with Perfectionism

Posted: September 19th, 2010, 5:00 pm
by JennaSaisPas
Hi there!

First, get this into your head. First drafts all kind of suck. Especially in the beginning of your career. Stephen King's first drafts suck less, but that's because he's been THE Stephen King for 30 years. You ain't there yet.

I have a novel, and it needs a rewrite, too, with major plot updates. One thing that helps me is this: Start with the old work in front of you, printed out. Create a new word file, and retype the old work into it. This way, your fingers are moving and the ideas are flowing. Then, when you get to a bit where the new plot differs from the old, Type the new plot where the old one was. If in the old version Jim turns left, and now, he turns right, make that change. Type out that whole difference, while keeping an eye on the old work. Then, pick up re-typing description from the old as needed, etc.

Some things will jump out immediately - when you retype, you are rethinking each word on a different level, and instinct will make you do a lot of corrections. Your subconscious has made some improvements, but you weren't taking notes at the time - this is now the consultation with the Subconscious You. But you're working the OLD version, right? You knew it had some good, but also had some suck, so it's not so crushing when you see suck that you *knew* about. Also, you're not second-guessing EVERYTHING, you're just rewriting, with your old work and your subconscious doing the dictation. You're just doing the typing. No stress.

When you finish your new draft, there are lots more things you can do to polish.
Start by reading this:
Then, read this: ... your-novel

Then, follow some of the directions in the second article. Do that search for " -ly " in your document, and gauge the level of adverb-usage suckitude. Congratulations! You've learned something about how you write, and that will be in your head as you generate the next MS. Gradually, those habits will reduce themselves.

Then, search for "were" "was" "had been" "have been" and fine-tooth-comb those bad boys. They're passive, or telling, or indicative of an unplanned tense shift. When you're analyzing a word choice for just one sentence, it becomes less emotionally wrecking than considering the MS as a whole. Many instances will be dialogue or innocuous, but some will be cramping your style.

Have 2 actors or friends (or you doing 2 voices) read your dialogue out loud, preferably on tape. Does it sound stilted? Unnatural? Well, then you will HEAR what to change! How great! When actors stumble over a line, chances are the readers will stumble over the line while reading it. There really is no better way to show off exact locations of problems within sentences, especially dialogue.

Ask your readers to identify crutch words. I bet you can find a few of your own. Search your document for them - surprised at how many times "ecstasy" popped up? Well, time for a good thesaurus, eh? And the search-and-replace function is your friend here, identifying problems which might need correction - not judging your writing! Just fixing issues.

Once you've handled these mechanics (notice, I did not call this "writing" ), you'd be surprised at how much your telling got turned into showing. The best part is that you're working with your writing the same way a kid dismantles a toy to see how it works - your baby becomes useful, nuts and bolts knowledge that will never leave you. You've seen inside the belly of your work, and you know why it's not ticking - time to oil up the joints and clean the cogs. You get better every time!

Last, because it bears repeating - life is a succession of failures. You either learn from them and fail differently next time, or you don't move forward. We all fail at relationships, and do better the next time. We suck with money and eventually learn how to bounce fewer checks. That's why older folks know so much - they've tried so many things and failed at them! They learned the hard way, and now it's your turn.

Rejoice every time you fail to write a sentence well. It's an opportunity to learn. But you can't do that if you don't write, because that's where that not-moving-forward ickiness comes into play.

Don't worry about your writing! That's the fun part! Once you've written, worry about your mechanics. Fortunately, you can do that in easily manageable maintenance chunks, and you can learn to separate because you're not chopping up your baby - you're making it smarter, sexier, and more likeable with a few fine-tuning tools.

That's not so bad, is it?