Ask any of my family what word describes me the best, and you will probably get the answer of “Perfectionist.” (Well, unless you ask my sister, but I won’t say what she would call me.)
For me, everything must be PERFECT.
The books on my bookshelf are in chronological order.
My toys are in boxes, labeled (a system I was always fighting to maintain having 5 siblings who didn’t keep it).
My clothes (when they get put away) are organized by color-set in my closet.
Not to long ago, I even tried to organize the spice-cupboard in the Kitchen with a decimal system. For my mindset, it was perfect: have a “simple” master sheet of numbers on the inside of the cupboard door, which told you every where thing was. (Eg. CUMIN: 5.3.2 = The fifth jar, on the third shelf, of the second cupboard) my family disagreed with my idea, and accused me of being two things:
B) Complicating things needlessly.
At first the thought I had was: “hmmph, they just don’t appreciate my organization..”. But once I got to thinking about it, I started to wonder—
Maybe they were right.
HEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM:
I’ve noticed something in my writings lately… that being that I haven’t written anything lately. I took a step back and looked at it from an outside perspective (Hindsight 20/20 and all that, plus I can see better from a distance.) There was an underlying problem:
I wasn’t writing, or rather I couldn’t write, because I was editing before I even got the idea down on paper. I’ve never been a fan of 1st drafts because they’re flawed… VERY flawed. My perfectionism was telling me to keep it in my head until I had it perfect and then put it down on paper. The problem with that mindset though it that nothing is ever perfect. Especially in the world of writing.
Writing is an imperfect process. Like an assembly line if you will.
The first stage is plotting: You form a base idea, a basic plot of events. A “Story Skeleton”. This is the process of working out what happens. Here’s an example:
1). John gets drafted into the military,
2). John is deployed to war-torn area,
3). John is caught behind enemy-lines,
4). John saves his fellow soldier, Bill,
5). John becomes a war hero.
After you have those basic events down, you move on.
The second stage is fleshing out, also known as 1st draft, you know what happens, now you get to work out how, and add the first layer of details. As opposed to the previous stage, where you wrote out a simple outline, this is the point where you actually put down your scenes:
1). John is fishing at the pond on his family’s farm, near Duluth, Minnesota, when his younger sister Jenny brings him the letter that just arrived in the mail from the State Department.
2). After many months of hard training at boot-camp, John is deployed with the Army to a secret location in Northern Siberia, where the American-Siberian war is in full swing.
3). On a secret mission in the middle of the night, John and Bill, sneak across Siberian Lines to destroy a vital power-station. They destroy the target, but on their way back they are pinned down by a tank and machine-gun fire.
4). When Bill is severely wounded in the ambush, John risks his life to save him, and despite his own wounds, carries him across American lines on his back, where he arrives exhausted hours later.
5). After his recovery, John is hailed as a hero by his fellow soldiers for the completion of his mission and his bravery under-fire.
Once you have the “meat” added to the “Skeleton” of your story, you move on.
2ND DRAFT / EDITING AND REVISION:
The third stage is fixing your errors, also know as the 2nd draft, or the editing and revision stage: this is where you take a step back, look at the whole picture, edit where needed, or change where needed.
“John” might be renamed to “Joe” or it might be his little brother who takes him the letter, or his mother. He might move from living in Minnesota, to Texas, or maybe even to a whole different country. The changes are unlimited, and this is the stage to make them, or if you are content with it as is, not to make them.
The reason though, that you WAIT to edit/revise is pretty simple: Before this stage, you didn’t have a story! You can’t edit or revise what doesn’t exist yet!
This was/is my problem. And I’ve done it to myself since I started writing at 13! This is the main reason I have never finished anything longer than a short story. Anything that has a complex structure, like say a novel, needs a firm, solid foundation. I’ve found that, at least for me, I cannot establish that foundation by writing in my head.
Unfortunately, nothing will ever be perfect this side of Heaven. And anything that comes close won’t be accomplished on the first try. Art is a process of building up and then tearing down… it’s the joy and wonder at watching something ugly turn into something beautiful, something broken become something whole.
So while the perfectionist in me hates seeing a flawed, imperfect story on paper, the artist in me loves it. Because, what it really boils down to is this… without the process of addition and subtraction, art just wouldn’t be any fun—Would it?