“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” — Anne Lamott
I first encountered Anne Lamott years ago with her book “Bird by Bird.” Two pieces from that book have always stood out for me. The first is the story of her brother being overwhelmed with a report he had to write for school about birds. The subject was so large that he didn’t know where to begin. His father offered the advice, “Bird by bird, son. Bird by bird.” The other was her insistence that we give ourselves permission to write shitty first drafts.
At that time, I was in a serious battle to the death with perfectionism in my writing. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head that everything had to be “just right” before I moved on to the next bit. As a result, it took me two years to complete a draft — which wasn’t actually ready for prime time. Giving myself permission to not be perfect the first time was so incredibly liberating. Not that it was easy to break that habit because I could still hear the internal editor’s voice, “If you tweak it just a little before continuing…”
NaNoWriMo was another liberation because if you’re going to do 50,000 words in 30 days, the only way to do that is by throwing caution to the wind and just writing. The more you do that, guess what? The more you find your voice, the more you begin to trust your instincts. My first drafts are still usually a mess, but if I put my butt in the chair, keep my head down and just go, I can get a draft of a book done in four to six weeks. But only if I ignore that voice inside my head telling me to fix things first.
Now is not the time to strive for perfection. If we do, we won’t make word count, we won’t get our words done. Just throw the words on the page and trust your instinct. Don’t worry if your 19th century heroine is making 21st century pop culture references. If it expresses what you want her to convey right now, put it down. During the revision phase is the time to weed out inconsistencies, putty over the cracks and make certain everything is smooth.
But also accept that when your book has been revised and carefully edited, it’s still not going to be perfect. It will hopefully be the best work you can do, but not perfect. Why? Because we need to keep learning and growing, reaching for new horizons. We should strive, not for perfection, but for doing the best we can at this point in our journey.
We’re at the end of Week Two, almost at the halfway point. Today, let yourself go and let the words be what the words will be.
Word Count Goal: 23,333