The Paralysis of Perfection

img_0368In the 2016-17 Draft House season, we’ve reached the point in the writing at which many drafters are struggling with making hard choices.

We’re coming up on week 10 of writing six days a week on a regular schedule. Many of us are facing waves of exhaustion after writing consistently every single day for what is – in many cases – the first time ever. It is at such moments that the lure of procrastination becomes far more appealing than it was in week 2 or 3. The other claims on our time, pushed aside for several weeks while we worked, are now louder and more insistent than before.

And, if we’re honest, attending to those other parts of our lives offers a nice, relaxing haven from the point at which we  have stalled out in our writing. Because things are harder now. All those easy parts and exciting parts and the first wave of writing are in the rear view mirror; and the road ahead looks like a lot of plot that needs working out, structure that could be reorganized, and questionable choices we’re not sure we can stick to.

Lots of our group are facing the dilemma of whether to go forward without regard to what might be imperfect (or completely messed up) in what they’ve already written — continuing to build on a shaky foundation, so to speak — or stopping to go back and fix things before moving on. While the first option means continuing momentum and an easier shot at logging those word counts each day, the latter option offers us… a shot at perfection.

And that’s where it gets sticky.

For the record, the Draft Queens have differing views on this issue. Emily simply cannot push forward with an imperfect plot or premise, can’t ignore major flaws while plunging ahead. M.J., on the other hand, has been burned one time too many by the promise of fixing the road behind, only to get stalled out and left with the shreds of a 40,000 word could’ve-been masterpiece that no longer feels worth the trouble.

Despite our differences, the Draft House model is based on continuing to chug forward, come hell or high water; with the idea that anything – including most structural issues  – can be fixed in revisions. This doesn’t mean you can’t go back and fix little things or even big chunks of text. Both of us have been known to stop and re-outline or make major changes. It just means you must do so with an eye to always moving forward. There’s nothing wrong with going back to fix your foundation — with this note of caution: spend more time adding to your total words each day than you do removing.

Perfection can be paralyzing, and as soon as you open the door to what’s behind you, you risk getting snared in pursuit of it. Tracking your daily word count and demanding progress from yourself forces you to keep things moving during the drafting phase, so you don’t end up with a beautifully polished half of something. A rough hewn whole can be molded and sanded and shaped, parts taken out and put back in, major surgery performed. You can replace one arm with an espresso machine in revisions. Because you have a fully formed thing, it can withstand those painful revisions and not fall completely apart. On the other hand (the one that can now make you a soy latte), if your energy and momentum die out at the halfway point, it’s hard to recover.

Like all things writer (and most things life) this is a spectrum, along which each of us must find the balance that works for us. What a daily word count challenge offers is a measuring stick for your momentum, a promise to yourself that you will not become so mired in repairs that you lose the will to finish.

Start. Write. Finish.

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