The writer’s solution to beating perfectionism and procrastination

Every writer wants to become that noteworthy debut author who’s the darling of the bestseller charts and book blogs. With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder so many authors fall prey to perfectionism and procrastination. Editing and publishing feel like a mile-high wall that’s impossible to scale.

Maybe you’ve effectively taken yourself out of the running for a traditional publishing deal by insisting on pitching a book the market isn’t ready to embrace. Maybe you’ve been so busy chasing your own tail in a Möbius loop of self-publishing processes that your book is realistically headed nowhere but the next revision.

If you’re a debut author, at some point you inevitably must make your debut. You can’t keep running around and around the hamster wheel forever. This isn’t your only book; it’s your first. All that pressure? Come on—you’re a debut author. Everyone knows you’re new at this.

One step at a time. This is how you walk past perfectionism and procrastination.

Stop getting ready

Have you ever described yourself as an aspiring author? If so, knock it off; you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. A writer writes. An author makes books. A novelist creates novels. Stop aspiring and start doing.

So maybe you’ve written the manuscript but you’re still tinkering. Take a deep breath and push away from the keyboard. If you’ve written this book for yourself, you’re done; if you’ve written a novel meant to be published, it’s time to move it into the publication process.

It’s hard to let go of your baby and watch it toddle into someone else’s arms. The prospect of facing the reactions of strangers can be terrifying. What if people criticize your writing? What if they hate the story? The truth is that somebody will. Some readers will love your book, and some won’t—and neither may occur for the reasons you expect or think fit your work.

What you need at this point is a way to get past your emotions. The best way to do that is to loosen your emotional death grip on your manuscript. There’s more work to be done, but you’ve put your artistic vision onto the page. Now it’s time to see what your book looks like through readers’ eyes.

Critiquing and workshopping is one of your first opportunities to expose your fledgling story to others. Don’t get stuck in an endless feedback loop. Gather constructive input, make your revisions, and move forward. Get into editing, and get that baby out the door. It’s time to begin writing your next novel. That’s how this publishing thing works.

Write first

If you’ve read any of my other advice for authors, you probably know I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery of a skill or field of endeavor. That’s not backed by scientific evidence, I know—but don’t you think it sounds like good common sense?

The only way to get really good at something is to do a lot of it. To get good at writing novels, you need not only to write lots and lots of pages, but you need to write lots and lots of pages under the scrutiny of outside eyes that can help you figure out what’s working, what’s not, and why. Don’t keep writing the same book over and over. It’s time for the next project.

Get used to the idea: there’s a lot of critiquing and workshopping in your future. You may end up hiring an editor for manuscripts that advance your skill but don’t quite make it as publishable novels. Your creative development is worth it, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe you’ll end up working with a story coach to help you keep unrolling the story threads from within you.

There are so many affordable ways to learn to be a better writer, so many opportunities to start learning all the things you need to learn as a novelist. Get cracking.

Walk past perfectionism

“Practicing” a novel is no joke. A book is a massive project. And yet the only way to improve your skill at the form is to practice.

Keep in mind that it’s not the end of the world to spend months or years writing a book and be dissatisfied with the result. You’ll learn some valuable lessons along the way. Even after you begin publishing, many publishing experts advise authors to think of their first published books as the warmup of their careers. You’re not automatically “a success” by dint of being published; you’re working on it, though.

So keep writing. Keep learning, too; make sure you’re not making the same mistakes over and over again. Outside feedback will help you grasp the strengths and weaknesses of each manuscript. Learn from your effort, embrace the process, and then turn to the next project.

Finish that manuscript. You’ve just taken an important step in your creative development. Now keep walking.

Lisa Poisso, Editor and Book Coach

Understanding how stories work changes everything. I’ll show you how to back up your creative instincts so your ideas hit home. It’s time to accelerate your journey from aspiring writer to emerging author. 

Ready to get serious about your book? Apply to work with me.

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