According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, perfection is defined as “the state or condition of being perfect; freedom from fault or defect”. Generally, we all want to be perfect in life: a perfect house, a perfect job, a perfect dinner, a perfect day, and so on. More commonly, we all want to write the perfect novel or essay.
Yes, we all want to have the perfect novel or essay. But this “want” can severely limit our writing capabilities. How is perfection like an infection? Well, think about this. We all want to make perfect decisions, even if it’s simply deciding whether to eat ice cream or potato chips. (I admit, I usually want to have the perfect snack when I’m taking a break.) Now, this can lead to problems, as we are so engrossed on making the perfect decision. When there are times when we simply cannot find the perfect decision, we are stuck.
Think about it this way. Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and you’re standing in the vegetable and fruit section. Right in front of you is a gigantic bucket of apples. You need to buy apples. So you pick one up and immediately notice a brown ugly blemish. You put it back and get another apple, but you notice that there’s a mysterious recess in it. You put that apple back and again, get another one out. This apple is shaped strangely, so you put it back. You know what will happen next.
You see, if you’re so “engaged” with finding the perfect apple, you’ll never find one and you’ll be stuck in the grocery store until it closes. This roughly correlates with “over-analyzing” and “analysis paralysis”. In writing, perfection can be like an infection when you’re writing your first draft. A writer can be occupied in perfection that when it is impossible to be perfect, he/she stops writing. Thus, consequently, he/she loses motivation for some time. In that time, perfection never comes. To those participating in NaNoWriMo, a loss of motivation can lead to all types of trouble.
Most argue that the “need for perfection” causes writer’s block. How? Because we expect that the first words we write down on a page to be perfect. However, such perfection, of course, is rare, and we inevitably end up typing down words and paragraphs that do not satisfy us. Thus, because we don’t want to write things that do not satisfy us, we end up not writing at all, waiting for that “perfect” paragraph or idea to hit us. I have done this a few times before realizing that “waiting” for the “perfect” idea is often pointless. After all, all ideas are equal in value. How you use those ideas determines their worth.
In my first NaNoWriMo experience, I had the whole first five chapters planned out. Each day, my word count rose exponentially each day. However, after finishing those first five chapters, I was left with rough sketches and a rough timeline of the following chapters. I didn’t like them, so I stopped writing, which was a big mistake. I wanted to find the perfect event for that chapter so I didn’t have to rewrite it after. Of course, I was mistaken.
By Day 10, I still had the same word count as Day 5. Frustrated, I started Chapter six and typed whatever was on my mind for that plot. I was extremely frustrated that I didn’t care if I sounded unintelligent or boring. Amazingly, by the end of Day 14, My word count had doubled.
On Day 15, I decided to read the whole novel from start to finish to look for plot loopholes. Then I realized something extraordinary. Even though I wrote the first five chapters “perfectly”, they needed to be edited just like the next five chapters. I learned that I could never be a “perfect writer” and that “being perfect” is virtually impossible. Of course, my five chapters I just typed sorely needed editing, but so did the first five chapters.
In NaNoWriMo, there is no time one can afford to waste. You have to type 1,667 words per day. If you forget/take a break (in normal circumstances) for one day, you are immediately 3,334 words behind schedule (assuming that you don’t type ahead of the daily goal). If you are only capable of writing/typing 2,000 words per day due to work or school, you see, we have a problem. You have 1,334 words left to type and by the next day, you need to type 3,001 words. Naturally, at this rate of typing, you will soon catch up, but what if you’re at the end of November? Or if there’s a sudden crisis?
Perfection is the icing on a cake. You need to have the actual cake first before you make it “perfect” according to your standards. You don’t bake a cake and meticulously put icing at the same time; it simply doesn’t work. You will end up wasting precious time icing rather than working on the actual cake, which is the most important part. Without the cake, where would you put the icing? Nowhere. (unless you spread the icing onto a plate… but who eats icing off a plate?)
So, what am I trying to get to here? For your first draft, especially if you are doing NaNoWriMo, throw perfection out the door. Be sure to lock the door. There’s always time for editing afterwards. Take drawing, for instance. If an artist draws a portrait of a person, the artist doesn’t immediately draw out the minute details of model, for example. They start with the basic structure of the piece, then draw the details in “layers” from there.
The same can be applied with writing. Purposely write the rough draft and “perfect” and edit it later. Make the cake then ice the cake.