March 17, 2016

Fighting the Perfectionism Monster

I've written before about perfectionism and the problems it causes, specifically for the girls. I'm not so sure if I've touched on my own struggles with it, but in this case, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I've been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember, and until recently, it's killed my productivity.

As long as I remember, if I started something, I wanted to finish it and make it just so. If doing that seemed impossible, I'd avoid starting altogether. It wasn't until I grew up and began reading articles on the internet that I learned this is common. Up until then, I just thought it was a personal flaw. But it makes sense. When you hold yourself to an impossible standard and get angry with yourself when you fail to meet it, not trying in the first place becomes very tempting. You can't mess up what you don't do, right?

Even those times when it doesn't stop you from trying, it can halt your progress. This doesn't apply as much for cleaning as it does for creative work. I can't count how many times perfectionism caused me to stop writing a rough draft and start tearing it apart right in the middle or unravel a crochet project or give up working on a painting.

That's what I'm fighting now. As you can see, I'm just past the halfway mark toward the goal for The Icarus Project. In order to try and get as close to the June release date as I can even with being so far behind, I asked the betas to start reading as I wrote instead of waiting until I had the second draft finished. This might have been a mistake considering my personality. I didn't think it'd be a problem, but the first bit of feedback I received has me itching to start tearing into the first half and rewrite it.

Looking back, I should have known. This is the exact reason it took me twenty years to finish Right of Succession. I'd come back from a short break due to something going on that took up a bunch of time, reread what I'd written, decide I hated it, and start all over. I must have done that fifty times or more between the first draft in 1994 until the last in 2014. That's why Hubby feels a sense of dread when I say anything at all about "rewrites." He's come to associate the word with my neurotic need to start over and over and over with the same material until I was satisfied it was as perfect as it could be.

Part of that was because it was my first novel. Part of it was because I was learning the craft. I did write the first draft when I was a clueless thirteen-year-old, and the story grew up with me. As I've said before, it's my adolescence and young adulthood in book form. It was one of those stories I probably should have stashed away in a drawer somewhere and find a decade down the road when I had experienced enough of life to do it justice, but I didn't. So it became my albatross for two decades and very well could have killed my desire to write if I wasn't so stubborn.

Knowing the reason behind the urge to stop and start over from scratch, and its consequences, has helped quell this urge to move backwards. While I'm sure I could nip back and fix the issue, I also know where starting down that road will lead. If I let myself get hung up with this one issue, I will stop all forward progress. Worse yet, I'll set a precedent for myself. Each and every time a beta flags an issue, I'll stop and go back to fix it over and over and over again.

I keep reminding myself it will be more efficient to keep writing and wait until all of the betas have responded before getting started. Why go back and rewrite to fix issues found by each beta as they respond when I could just go back one time? That's why I ask at least four people to beta each book. Different people see different things. Having multiple perspectives gives you a more complete picture of how the material is coming off to different people, and knowing that can help you craft your story.

"Rewrite once, maybe twice, and then proceed to editing," has become my mantra as I strive to cultivate a more "normal" time between publications. "Don't start rewriting until you've heard back from all your betas," is a new rule I'm establishing right now. 

Will I stop striving for perfection? Probably not. Wanting to do everything to the best of my ability is a key part of my personality, and it's a necessary one in the publishing business. However, I refuse to allow it to drive me into an endless loop that stops projects from seeing completion within my lifetime.

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