Writing Tip: Avoid Perfectionism

perfectstatue

Perfect is the enemy of Good.

Do you struggle with perfectionism?

Figuring out when a story is ready to submit or publish can be the most challenging part of the writing process. Through all the edits, re-writes, and proofreading you need to find that “good enough” place. Good enough to submit. Good enough to push to Amazon. Even just good enough to show other people.

Perfectionism is one of the single biggest hurdles in getting to “good enough”.

My first brush with the perils of creative perfectionism involved being in a band. We would practice the same four songs, and re-write or tweak them on a weekly basis. We never made any true progress and declared them “done”. We rarely worked on any new material, and ultimately, couldn’t play any gigs because we didn’t have enough songs for a full playlist.

I only realized the real problem after I had joined a new band. There were no perfectionists, and we played plenty of shows.

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be extremely difficult to say “I’m done. Time to move on.” However, this needs to happen in the name of progress. If you’re forever working on the same project or piece of writing, you’ll never truly grow. The challenge is finding that balance.

Studying writing during college definitely helped me lose some of my preconceptions about writing. These are a few things I learned that helped me avoid becoming mired in the perfection trap.

  • First, understand that NOTHING is perfect. NOTHING. EVER. You’ll never create a piece of art that is truly perfect, because they don’t exist.

That said, each work you complete provides experience and the opportunity to reflect and grow as a writer. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Vince Lombardi, who said,

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

  • Second,you need to be open to criticism.

Perfectionism is a great shield against criticism. No one can criticize your work if it’s never complete, right? You can just keep “improving it” forever.

Unfortunately, you’ll never grow as a writer unless you open yourself up to critique. I’m talking about meaningful, constructive criticism that helps you recognize issues and fix them. Not the scathing comments of jerks and trolls, which the internet is full of.

Find a person, or group of people who you trust to provide honest and helpful feedback about your writing so you can make it better.

Perfectionism can be difficult to deal with, but it’s essential you conquer it if you expect to get your writing out into the world and appreciated by an audience.

Writing Tip: 5 Ways to Find More Time

cremation-hourglass

If you’re like me, you struggle to find the time to write. Between work, school, and family obligations, maybe you spend more time thinking about writing than actually putting words down on the page. If you are passionate about writing, this can be extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to squeak out some extra writing time even in the busiest schedule.

Write in Small Chunks

A novel, or even a short story, can seem like a daunting task. The mantra “write every day” is slapped up all over the internet, but I don’t personally feel that’s always feasible. What I DO subscribe to is writing regularly, and if I’m pressed for time, writing in small chunks. Even if you only put down 50-100 words, that’s more than you had before, and all that work will help you eventually reach your goal.

Add Hours to Your Day

I’m a big proponent of simplifying. We’re constantly bombarded by advertising that tells us “we’re too busy”, but the reality is that most of us waste a HUGE amount of time on our phones, social media, and just not focusing on achieving our goals. Try this: Start monitoring how much time you spend on social media for the next 5 days. Write it down and next weekend tally that up. Then, think about how many words you could have written during that time.  If it’s quite a bit, you should consider prioritizing your time writing instead of browsing Facebook posts.

Write on Your Commute or Lunch Break

If it’s possible, try to get in some writing on your lunch break or your commute (if you use public transportation). It’s some great downtime that you can use to put words on the page or screen.

Carry a Notebook

Ideas don’t show up when it’s convenient. That means you need to be ready whenever inspiration strikes. It’s why I carry a notebook with me, so I can capture ideas as they happen. Whether I’ve just woken up from an especially intense dream, or I get a great idea for a short story while I’m out getting a coffee. It gives you the freedom to write whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Give Up Another Hobby

This is a tough one, but it’s something I had to do personally. I spent many hours practicing instruments in the hopes of one day of forming or joining a band. While I had been in quite a few bands years ago, it no longer meshes with my life for a number of reasons (schedule, having to rely on other people, etc). I realized that while I enjoyed it, it was a creative “dead end” that was taking up precious free time I could have been using to write, which is my primary creative outlet. Therefore, I sold some guitars, and have started a personal fund to buy a new writing desk. When your schedule is extremely packed, sometimes you need to sacrifice lesser hobbies for the good of focusing on the one you’re truly passionate about.

Writing Tip: How To Use Commas

comma

Oh, the comma.

Writers fret over punctuation, and there are few tools we use more than our curvy little pal. I’ve been accused more than once of overusing commas. I refer to the process as “Shatner-izing” my writing. It gives, it, more, dramatic, effect!

Star Fleet captains aside, here are some basic rules to live by when using (or not using) commas in your writing. For this post, the theme will be “aliens”.

Use Commas to Separate Elements

“The alien fired the laser, laughed, and kicked the piles of dust that were once humans.”

C7Yc9PtXgAEXu3M

Commas can be used to separate lists of elements that could potentially confuse a sentence, or just read poorly if they are separate actions that occur in sequence. The last comma in the sentence is known as a serial comma or an Oxford comma if you want to get all fancy and British about it. The general rule is a list of three or four, but there could be more if you want to get crazy.

Use Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions

I’m quite proud of the subtle segue I made in that last sentence up there. Commas can also be used with conjunctions to connect independent clauses

“The first saucer was destroyed, but more ships were on the way.”

Destruction may be inevitable, but at least our conjunctions are all sorted out.

Sidebar: The conjunction and is the one I always get crap about from editors and other writers. Given the pacing and structure of the sentence the comma isn’t always needed, but I tend to throw them in anyway. The rule is err on the side of commas. It may unnecessary, but it’s NEVER wrong.

Use Commas for Introductions

Commas are great for adding intro elements to a sentence. These can add flair, especially to action sequences (which require a minimum 37 pieces of flair).

“His energy sword crackling, the Venutian barbarian began his berserker rage!”

(I tossed some alliteration in there just because.)

Use Commas for Additional Information

If you want to add some additional information, or flavor text, that wouldn’t otherwise change your sentence, you can bust it in there between a pair of commas.

“The Martian commander, overseer of the armada, gave the signal to attack.”

 

I hope this advice was helpful. If so, here are some of my other Writing Tip posts.

Using Adverbs

How to Use Story Beats

Writing Around A Busy Schedule

Stop Using “Thought” Verbs

chuck-palahniuk-thought-verbs

I wanted to share this essay from LitReactor by “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk because it struck a chord with me. The idea of forcing yourself to no longer use verbs that act as “shortcuts” to what your characters are thinking and feeling is a very direct way of making the writer unpack better descriptions that allow the reader to draw those conclusions.

Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.

After I finished it, I looked back through some of my own work and realized I was totally guilty of what our friend Charles talked about. I practiced on a few sentences, and it made a huge difference in the level of immersion I was injecting into the scene.

This is one of those simple technique shifts that can make a world of difference, but might not be obvious to writers as we’re furiously scribbling away. You may want to take a few minutes to review your own work and see whether this is some advice you can apply to improve your writing style.

On Self-Censorship

stbg-chest42

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author last week that got me thinking about self-censorship.

She was debating re-writing a manuscript because she felt some of the content might offend her target audience. I cautioned her against censoring her own work even at the cost of alienating certain readers. My argument was that it would make the book less genuine and she’d ultimately run the risk of being unhappy with the final product.

Continue reading

Writing Tip: Overusing “Said” as a Dialogue Tag

SONY DSC

As I continue my quest in self-publishing, I read so much advice about “the rules” of writing. A common piece of knowledge dispensed about penning dialogue is to only use “said” as the primary dialogue tag.

What’s a dialogue tag?

A dialogue tag is a clause of two words or more which attributes speech to a particular speaker. “Hello,” John said. Hello is the dialogue. John said is the dialogue tag. The tag makes clear that John is doing the speaking, rather than Mary or Chris or the dining room table.via EditTorrent

The popular theory behind employing “said” as your weapon of choice is that it supposedly disappears as a reader is scanning the text, and through some psychological magic they treat it like punctuation.

I’m here to tell you that’s not (always) true.

Continue reading