The Danger of Perfectionism

Amusement Possible cute idea

Oh my gosh, you won't believe it!

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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I've just finished editing my Cornish Detective series, in preparation for a return to querying literary agents and turning myself into a social media raven maven.

Although I've edited these manuscripts a hundred times already, I figured that not having looked at them for months would add to my objectivity. So it proved, and I was helped in appraising my stories by three proofreading apps: Grammarly, Typely, and Hemingway Editor.

This bout of editing felt mechanical, focusing on making sentences less wordy. Not so much story-telling as conforming to what's said to be acceptable by writing gurus.

Overall, I'm pleased with what I did, but last night I completed editing the first novel I wrote, back in 2014-2015, and sat back wondering who would notice the improvements? An editor might be aware that my prose was tight and punchy, devoid of superfluous adverbs, but would a reader appreciate my style? It felt like I'd spent the last six weeks editing to jump through a hoop held up by writing experts.

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Who was I trying to please? Me, mainly! And also vaporous literary agents and editors evaluating my writing somewhere in the future.

I'd got lost in the nitty-gritty of writing while overlooking the key factor of what sells a story to a reader—that the premise of the plot intrigues them, and they want to know more—which is what agents and publishers seek as it makes the book saleable as a commercial product.

The thing is, it's hammered into us to make our manuscript as perfect as possible. Self-published eBooks are criticised for being badly edited by their writers. As if to prove a point, this article popped up in a newsletter:

How to Defeat Your Perfectionism in Writing

It included these points on identifying perfectionism in writing:

*A lack of satisfaction in your own writing (because it’s never good enough).

*An inability to stop editing it and just move on (because it’s never good enough).

*Aggravated fear and stress at the thought of your writing going public (because it’s never good enough—yes, we said that already).

*A feeling of failure regarding your work (because it’s never… you get the idea).

*An absence of fun or enjoyment when you write (completely understandable because it’s never good enough).

I recognised some of my traits, especially the inability to stop editing. :oops: I've finally accepted that the five manuscripts are as good as I can make them. There'll still be things to improve, but I'll leave that to the editor at an agency or publisher.

Look at it this way: no writer in the history of publishing has ever submitted a manuscript, to be told by an editor "This is perfect—I didn't have to do a thing to it—I may as well retire!"

Do you ever fret about being a perfectionist?

Have you spent longer editing a story than it took to write it?

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I always ease myself into writing by editing what I wrote the day before. I think it's probably frowned upon by the creative writing experts, but it means I definitely spend more time editing than writing. I find it the easier part. Unlike you, it's the plot I have trouble with. I now have a dozen polished versions of my WIP, none of which work. Sigh.
 
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Amusement Possible cute idea

Oh my gosh, you won't believe it!

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