How a Science Fiction Writer Helped Me Destroy Perfectionism and Get More Things Done?
In art and life, the hardest part is finishing what you started. For years I wrote and wrote and never shared my work with another soul. A perfectionist who believed the blog post, short story, novel, or policy manual for work needed one more polish, one more tweak, and one more pass.
The problem with perfectionism is two-fold. One, it doesn’t exist because nothing is perfect. Second, it paralyzes the producer from ever sharing their work. They’d rather polish than ship.
Can you relate?
Sometimes you find motivation from unlikely places. Mine came from a Science Fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein who wrote in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.
In the 40’s, Heinlein wrote an article about his beliefs on business, and how to make it as a writer. He knew multitudes of people who wanted to be writers. But when you ask what they’re writing, or the last thing they’ve published, blank stares and excuses.
The difference between a writer and a wannabe is one writes and one doesn’t. A pro versus amateur is one puts their words down, edits, publishes, and repeats for a lifetime. The latter complains, makes excuses, and critiques other writers for their lackluster art. While they’ve only published a short story in 1982. Too harsh?
That’s it. Do you write or not? Not… do you think about writing, outline, plan, dream, take courses, and read about writing. All important things. No, do you write?
Sometimes we need rules and guidelines to get the art going out the door. What I’ve found is these principles apply not only to writing. They apply to all of life. We are constantly making excuses of why we can’t do something or share our art or gift with the world.
Maybe Heinlein’s rules will be the kick in the butt we need. The first five are his, the last rule is mine.
Rule: #1 You Must Write
Obvious, right? But where it ends for most. We obsess over our work space, software, outlines, and never write a single word. The next word, sentence, and page is key to writing.
Simple math and a simple truth that every word you add to the page the closer you are to publication.
What is your plan to write today? Where? When? How long?
Schedule it and make a date with your writing desk. Let no one invade that space and barricade the door.
Key question: when will I start?
Rule #2: You Finish What You Start
How many projects are on the hard drive or in the drawer? Finish. The purpose of writing is not to feel good about half a work, or two thirds a work, the goal is to finish.
When you finish something (short or long), it teaches you how to keep finishing. An invisible wall falls down and completing work becomes easier down the road. But, we write to finish.
Most wannabe writers love talking about the thing they’ve been working on for ten years and never can seem to finish. We don’t have time for that. Write, finish what you start. Move to the next story.
Key question: what did I start that needs finishing?
Rule #3: Refrain from Rewriting (only for editorial demand)
This is where most wannabe writers check out. They have been rewriting, polishing, and redrafting their work for years. No, no, no!
English teachers and creative writing coaches (a scam) teach rewriting dozens of times makes great work. Read Stephen King’s On Writing and see an example in the back of the book. He does not rewrite. He writes a draft, reads it over, cuts, changes details, but never rewrites.
Rewriting will put you in the chair of the perfectionist. Flip the chair over and run.
If you need to rewrite then just start over. Rewriting is the myth that if I change a scene here, or there, and polish, and polish some more, it will get better. The problem is you kill the creative voice and originality in your story when you rewrite the crud out of it.
Don’t polish a turd. It will still be a turd.
Rewriting to death becomes an excuse to not finish your work. This doesn’t mean we don’t look for grammar, spelling, typos, and fix funky sentences. But, that’s not rewriting.
Most pros don’t rewrite. Lee Child, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, and Dean Wesley Smith, are one-draft writers. They believe: get it right the first time, polish, and ship.
Key question: when is good enough?
Rule #4: You Must Put Your Work on the Market
A few years ago, traditional publishing was the only viable game in town. Now you can indie publish or go traditional or both (hybrid). But, after you’ve written, polished, and not rewritten. Time to share.
Again this is where courage is necessary. Most novices will never share for a variety of reasons. Usually because they need to rewrite nine more times. Send the story to an editor and share.
If it doesn’t sell, no worries. It might sell years from now. If the story is no good, okay, good practice. Write another thing and ship it.
Key question: what do you need to share with the world?
Rule #5: You Must Keep on the Market Until it Sells
Most writers give up too soon. They send out a manuscript and get rejected, and crawl into corner, and never publish again. In the indie world you can leave your work up forever. Leave it on market and don’t take it down… ever. Wait, find an audience, and write more stuff.
Maybe in a couple years tweak the cover, description, or price. But, don’t take it down. Leave it. It’ll be found as your catalogue grows. Most writers think having one book for sale will lead to success. No. Write more, and leave it up, and find your raving fans.
Rule #6: Repeat.
That’s my rule. Move to the next story.
Most writers will ignore these rules. For the handful that listen… you will have a nice creative career and produce tons of great books.
I’m also willing to bet these principles apply to all of life. What do you need to start and share? What needs finishing? How can you get that art, dream, business, or thing out into the world?
Follow these principles and see what happens. You might be surprised.