I qualify to write this because I’ve wrestled with writer’s block all my life, long before my first book was published. Yet I have finished innumerable writing projects — reports, articles, blogs, non-fiction — and published them. My 50th novel is hovering in the wings.
When I hit a writer’s block, therefore, you’d expect me to say, “Uh oh, been here before, I know I can beat this.”
And sometimes I do.
But the trouble is the demon block changes shape from book to book. Hell, sometimes it changes from chapter to chapter.
For me, the perfectionist aspect of block is one of the worst. And part of the problem is that a secret, shameful bit of me quite likes the idea of being a perfectionist. It sounds superior. Rigorous, even. It says I’m a Writer With Standards. And I’ll work hard — all night if necessary — to get the job done.
A brilliant (and honest) editor blew that one out of the water. “If you don’t stop tiffling with that damn book,” she said eventually, “I’m going to come round to your house at midnight and remove it. Possibly at gun point.” (I can hear all my writing friends raising a cheer.)
What’s the Answer?
Perfectionism is a lifelong condition for me. I can avoid it only if I write fast and have both a vicious deadline and an editor red in tooth and claw, waiting.
Lacking those, I have found it helps to:
- tell myself it’s a novel, not the cure for global warming. Until I believe it.
- re-engage with the real world. Cat being sick will do it. Hugging a tree is nicer.
… is there is no such thing as a perfect novel. Revising is a trade-off between clarifying, honing and cutting out the boring bits (which every book needs) and vitality.
Beware those people who tell you that your ms should be the best you can possibly make it. By the 40th draft, you may just have polished the life out of it.
Do the spell check, sure.
Make sure your ending relates to your start in a meaningful way.
Don’t tinker with the journey between any more than you feel (NOT think, feel) you have to. Gut trumps head every time.
Forget perfect. Keep the energy flowing.
If it explodes, the readers might just love it.
Sophie the head-hanging Perfectionist
(NB Joanna added that descriptive bit since it’s the nearest she can get to “editor red in tooth & claw” for Book 50)