Have you ever been in a situation where you want to do something, but you can’t seem to get it done?
I’m working on a second draft of a novella at the moment. I have my beta readers lined up, a market in mind and a deadline to meet. I think the story is strong, I know the characters and the end is in sight. However, I keep missing my deadlines for finishing the second draft. Why? It would be easy to blame it on demands from family and friends, on poor health, or more urgent writing deadlines that need to be fulfilled, but I believe there is a deeper reason.
Feline paralysis syndrome. No, that’s when my cats fall asleep on my arms and keep me from moving. Perfection paralysis syndrome. Now, that’s more like it.
I have high hopes for this novella. I’m excited to learn what my beta readers think of it. I want it to be accepted by a publisher. In short, I want it to be good. Because of this, I am so busy worrying about it being good, I’m not actually writing it. I’ve lost sight of the why of this novella – to write an entertaining story – and the what of this novella – to write an entertaining story – and got caught up in the how of it. I’m so worried about how the words form together to bring across meaning, and layers, and characters readers care about that I’ve forgotten I want to write an entertaining story, and stopped writing altogether.
Years ago, when ‘Community‘ was on TV, I used to occasionally read Dan Harmon’s blog. I read it for insight into the show, and he was usually funny, and often mentioned writing. I remember one post where he wrote about how it can be difficult to write because you want to write well, and how this desire can leave you paralysed, staring at a blank page. He advised, at these times, to give yourself permission to write badly. Bad writing, he argued, was better than no writing at all. You can always improve it, and it may not be as bad as you think. I have written ‘Permission to suck’ on a piece of paper and stuck it over my desk, as a daily reminder of this sage advice.
Recently, I haven’t been writing at my desk, and I seem to have forgotten this nugget of wisdom, hence my perfection paralysis syndrome. I have to remind myself that my writing doesn’t have to be (and never will be) perfect, it just has to be finished, so that other people can read it and give me their feedback. My writing isn’t going to be good if it’s never written in the first place.
My goal for this week is to complete my novella, whether it’s good, bad or ugly, and send it out to my beta readers. What task is keeping you paralysed by the desire to make it perfect? I’d love to read about it in the comments.