3 Practical Reasons Not to Worry About Trying to Write a Perfect First Draft
Sometimes striving for perfection can get in the way of productivity when you’re trying to write your first novel.
If you’re a writer or first-time author, here are three practical reasons why you shouldn’t strive to write a perfect draft of your book. I didn’t bother to appreciate this information I’m about to share, until long after self-publishing my own first novel. During that time (roughly 5 years ago), I made this very same mistake myself, while I was writing and trying to complete my book. I had no idea that striving for perfection could actually be getting in the way of my productivity, and possibly even my creativity.
Productivity Versus Self
Selecting an effective writing style can often come down to productivity versus self. You can always insist on doing things your way and only what is comfortable to you, but sometimes doing this runs contrary to being productive. I learned this the hard way, and believe it or not, it wasn’t until after years of being a prolific blog and article writer.
Way back when I was blogging, ghost writing, and contributing everywhere I could online, I often got stuck and would have trouble completing a project in a timely manner. This was due to my insistence on getting every single paragraph exactly right before I could move on and write the next one. I never liked the idea of writing a rough draft, let alone another and then another.
I wanted the entire article to be at its best by the time I completed the writing the first time out. Fortunately for me, by the time I wrote my second novel, I realized the error of this kind of thinking, and understood the importance of multiple drafts; at least three. I learned and began to appreciate the importance of each of the three suggested drafts and how they all have a bearing on the finished product. The remainder of this story will tell you all about those 3 reasons and how they affect your soon-to-be published novel.
Perfection Not Practical
When you really think about it, the thought of being so determined to do something perfectly, at the risk of not completing the task doesn’t even make sense. In my own case, I soon discovered that I would put in several days of writing for hours, yet I wasn’t really moving along in the book. This was due to all the editing, reading, re-editing, and re-reading of the material.
Sometimes, after a long day of writing, I’d return to it the next day and even repeat the cycle again; for the same material I already covered. More and more I could see that this compelling desire to perfect my writing was becoming a serious issue. Holding myself to that kind of standard of perfection was impractical, and making it hard to ever complete my writing.
Notice what the personal experiences of two Medium story writer’s reveal about the inner forces that compel us, and color the way we perceive ourselves and our successes.
Medium member @mandystadtmiller published the story How I Stopped Sitting Around All Day Seething With Jealousy of My Peers on the Human Parts publication. She wrote it about her eventual inner push to write a book.
“I was battling an invincible foe, a monster of my own creation. What had begun as a healthy inner creative critic had long since metamorphosed into an insatiable, sadistic beast. It had free reign over everything I typed, thought, and did. It was in charge, not me. It told me I sucked. It knew every bad choice I’d ever made. Every wrong word I had written. Every blustering embarrassment and overreach. It knew I was a failure. It told me that all the time.”
In her story titled Writing a Novel When You Have ADHD, this is what @nicole.zupich shared with readers:
“…it’s easy for me to hoard my writing and not want to let anyone else read it until every single sentence is perfect and every detail totally fleshed out. Eventually I think to myself, “Jesus, I know nothing about commas or grammar anymore, maybe I need to take some online English and writing courses before I attempt this.”
Believe it or not, these words ring true for so many people in general, even though the title of her story is Writing a Novel When You Have ADHD. I was once controlled by this type of striving for perfection, so I know it can happen to anyone, especially if you’re a creative type (with or without ADHD).
Blinded by Perfection
As far as my own story goes, during the first couple of weeks of writing my first novel, I stopped often, and read every paragraph aloud after completing each one. I’d make corrections before allowing myself to continue on. Many of the changes I made were actually for the better, although my writing output was minimal. The major downside of things was that when you rely on this kind of system, you begin to get blinded by the idea of perfection. Before you know it, you’re questioning even the good stuff that you’ve written. Pretty soon, the really good paragraphs begin to not seem so good, so the whole editing cycle starts again.
This kind of striving for perfection is bad enough when you’re attempting to finish an article, with or without a pending deadline. But if you’re trying to write and finish an entire manuscript, using this system can drive you insane. It can even cause you to stop working on your book entirely and give up in sheer defeat. Determining how to prevent these kind of negative feelings can be done by understanding how to avoid common self-defeating attitudes.
If you’re a first time author or novelist and this information sounds like it’s describing you, then you may need to do what I did; forget about self. This is not about your doing things the way you think makes sense, just because that’s the way you’ve always done them. Don’t allow your continual striving for perfection to prevent you from ever completing what you start.
The key is learning how to ignore that urge to write an error-free, perfect story, the very first time out the gate. Then, you can shift your focus to where it needs to be, on making sure you get the meat and potatoes all down, from start to finish. Once this is actually done, you’ll be excited and ready to get right to your first read through of the entire manuscript. But there are a number of different elements you need to check for, and trying to look for all of those elements at the same time is difficult and ineffective.
Multiple Drafts Needed
Deciding to do things the right way means accepting from the start that multiple drafts will be needed when writing your book. The practical purpose for writing multiple drafts has to do with the future edits and revisions that will most assuredly be needed. I hate to break it to all you perfectionists out there, but it doesn’t matter how well you scrutinize, edit, and revise your book before you decide it’s finished. There will still be at least some editing needed afterwards (and I strongly discourage you from trying to do it yourself). Before your book is ever ready for publishing, you should attempt at least three first drafts and here are 3 practical reasons for creating them.
First Draft — The purpose of this first draft is to read and edit your manuscript after the story is completed. In doing so, you’ll be correcting and fixing things, but this is where you’re going to have to exercise some discipline. Your natural inclination will be to try and spot everything that might be wrong with the manuscript and correct it all, resulting in just one draft. But that is not what you need to do. Instead, during this reading, forget worrying about typos, grammar, and other technical parts of your writing for now.
Concentrate only on the correctness of corresponding facts in the story such as the proper time and sequence of events. You can compare this to the way a student would handle scheduling college classes without winding up with time conflicts and classes overlapping. Among the other types of issues to look for would be conflicts with characters and character interaction.
Is all the dialogue consistently specific to each character’s individual personality (use of slang, profanity, accents, etc)? Do other elements exist, that might make the story inaccurate or implausible?
This is a lot to determine and more than enough to worry about during the editing of the first draft. Instead of trying to make serious revisions during this stage, condition yourself to focus on only the tasks at hand. If you must, you can make a list of brief side notes about any possible revisions that might enhance the story. But only do this if you feel like there is an area you might want to do differently, but you don’t have an immediate fix at the time. That way, you can continue on and not let the temporary blockage prevent you from completing your mission.
Second Draft — Working on the second draft should be used as an opportunity to go back and read the story again after the first round of editing, only this time you have a different focus. This editing session should only be about paying specific attention to the dynamics of your story, including the scenes, characters, dialogue and events.
Do the above elements of your story help solidify the genre you plan to classify the book under? For instance, if your book is a suspense novel, have you done enough to help build the suspense and in all the right places? Is there enough romance if it’s a romance novel? It it’s a mystery, are there mysterious places and scenes, and dialogue that makes you wonder?
You’ll also need to take note of whether the dialogue flows well, and whether or not the overall pace of the book is consistent and suitable to the plot. These, and similar elements should be considered during this stage of second draft editing.
Third Draft — By the time you reach the third draft, you’ll be feeling pretty darn good about the progress of your story. Aside from the technical errors that only amount to simple fixes, your manuscript is just about finished and ready for a professional editor to look it over. Now is the time to think about tightening things up, as you work your way through the document, correcting basic errors and formatting.
Have you corrected common spelling and grammar errors (such as their and there), and any typos related to proper punctuation? Did you remember to include a footer or header containing page numbers?
As you read and make quick corrections, listen to how the final story sounds. Don’t change anything in the actual story, only the technical stuff that you’re supposed to be focusing on. That includes properly formatting the manuscript. Some authors feel the matter of formatting might be addressed better by an additional editing session, thus creating a fourth draft.
Possible Fourth Draft
If you feel the necessity for a fourth draft , that just means there will be less work for a professional proofreader and editor to do. With regard to using this as a formatting opportunity, I personally didn’t have the need to do this. I did my formatting setup beforehand so the document formatted as I wrote it. This pretty much eliminated the need to do excessive formatting after the fact. You can do the same thing, or if you self-publish via KDP, you can use a pre-formatted template. Either way, regardless of when you do it, formatting is another important element to the final completion of your book.
When you’re finally done with the third draft, this would be the time to consider the notes (if any) that you made during the first draft. By now, you have already determined whether any of the changes are still wanted, or even needed. You may just decide that everything is fine the way it is (mostly because you’re just about sick of the whole darn thing and ready to be done). The need to do a fourth draft will be dependent on just how many of those revisions you actually decide to go back and make.
While you may or may not end up doing more editing and producing a fourth draft, you’ll definitely end up reading the entire manuscript for a fourth time. That is when you can hopefully, breath a sign of relief and know that you’re truly done, at least until a professional lays eyes on it.
For those writers who see themselves as perfectionists (like I once used to do), I hope, you’ll come to the same conclusion as this anonymous contributor to a Writer’s Digest forum. The final sentence in the following paragraph says it all. Notice how the writer responded to the questions: How many times do you rewrite? How many drafts does it take?
“I write one paragraph, then I rewrite it, then again. Then again. 3rd or 4th try, it’s finally starting to shed the ‘telling’ problem and is more ‘showing’ and more engaging, etc yada yada. (Hoping it will get faster someday for me.) Sometimes, of course, things just FLOW, but then sometimes I’m like a rusty chain, ugh! So then I have to go back and fix it. But now, knowing that I CAN fix something has made all the difference for me…So glad.”
Now that you know you’re not the only writer who is hard on their self and always trying to rush perfection, what will you do? You don’t have to worry about your writing and creativity being compromised if you chose to change your way of doing things. Creating multiple drafts is an effective and proven writing strategy used by scores of successful authors.
This is a surefire way to help increase your writing productivity, because you won’t be stuck on stupid, while striving for nothing but perfection. That is not to say that perfection should never be a goal. Shoot for the stars, but at the appropriate time. Where your book is concerned, remember you will have plenty of time and opportunity to make things perfect, once you actually complete the writing.